Kerry Johnson is hoping the Park Rapids boys and girls cross-country teams accomplish something that hasn’t been done since 1997.
That was the year both teams qualified for the state Class A meet. The girls went on to qualify for state in 1998, 2009, 2010 and 2011 while the boys didn’t make it back to state as a team until last fall.
With plenty of talent returning, Johnson is cautiously optimistic the Panthers can send both teams to state this fall.
“We met three days a week to run and quite a few runners were able to do that. Each year they report in better and better shape. When practice starts, we can start doing harder workouts right away because so many of them are ready,” said Johnson. “We have tough competition at all of our meets, so we don’t really worry about being first as a team. We just look at working hard, dropping time and being ready when sections roll around. We have many guys returning from last year’s state team and we have some girls returning with state experience. I know all the runners would like nothing better than to get two teams to St. Olaf. However, there is a whole season ahead of us and we have much work to do.”
Boys determined to return to state
A senior-led group is determined to make back-to-back state appearances after leading the Panthers to state for the first time in 15 years last season.
Junior Isaac Overmyer and seniors Austin Carlson, Brad Eischens, Zach Jewison and Bailey Mueller return from last year’s team that finished fourth at the Mid-State Conference meet and claimed runner-up honors at the Section 8A meet after placing fourth the last two seasons. Overmyer, Eischens and Mueller will serve as captains.
Perham repeated as section champs with 17 points while the Panthers took second with 99 points. Roseau (124), Pequot Lakes (154), Hawley/Ulen-Hitterdal (160), Staples-Motley (161) and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (174) followed.
At the state meet, Perham led the way with 37 points while the Panthers finished 15th out of 16 teams with 365 points. Park Rapids was ranked as high as No. 11 in the state Class A poll during the season.
Overmyer was the Panthers’ No. 1 runner all season, repeating as the Mid-State Conference champion and advancing to his second state meet by placing fourth at the section meet. In his second state appearance, the team’s MVP earned all-state honors by finishing 10th after placing 26th as a freshman. Overmyer finished in the top four spots in every meet leading to state.
Jewison was the Panthers’ No. 3 runner last season, placing 15th to earn all-conference honorable mention honors at the Mid-State meet, finishing 21st at the section meet and placing 155th at the state meet.
Mueller was the Panthers’ No. 4 or No. 5 runner most of the season, finishing in the No. 5 spot at the conference meet (31st overall), the section meet (30th overall) and the state meet (164th overall).
Carlson and Eischens rounded out the varsity lineup in most meets. Carlson was the team’s No. 6 runner at both the conference and section meets (placing 32nd overall at both meets) and was the No. 7 runner at state (placing 174th) while Eischens was the No. 7 runner at the section meet (placing 34th) and the No. 6 runner at the state meet (placing 165th).
Two key spots to fill will be those of last year’s seniors Jake Waggoner and Tanner Otterness. Waggoner was the team’s No. 2 runner who earned all-conference honors by placing 10th at the Mid-State meet and ended his career by finishing 19th overall at the section meet and 132nd at the state meet. Otterness held the No. 4 spot most of the season, placing 26th at the Mid-State meet, 29th at the section meet and 161st at state.
Looking to fill those spots will be seniors Nathanael Rairdon, Jared Kantonen and Cody Brumbaugh; juniors Tyler Breitweser, Alex Boyd and Matt Konshok; sophomore Marcus Hoyer; freshmen Adam Jacobi and Zach Nelson; eighth graders Will Pickar and Darien Simon; and seventh grader Bjorn Jorgenson.
Rairdon competed in four varsity meets, claiming the No. 7 spot by placing 33rd at the conference meet. Rairdon was an alternate on the section and state teams. Breitweser competed on varsity in one meet.
“It will be exciting to see what the boys can do this year. We lost two important seniors, so those positions will need to be filled. The guys won’t have the luxury of surprising anyone because they went to state last year. Other teams are expecting them to be strong,” said Johnson. “The key to meeting our high expectations will be to keep working hard day in and day out. Each workout is important. The runners also need to stay healthy and take care of themselves. I think the guys are ready.”
Girls look to move up, reach state
A sophomore-led group is looking to start another streak of state appearances.
A fifth-place showing at the section meet ended a string of three straight state appearances for the girls. However, Tayah Otterness kept another streak alive by giving the Panthers a runner at the state meet for the seventh year in a row.
With four runners returning from last year’s section team and several other talented runners, Johnson is counting on the Panthers to contend for a state berth this fall.
Leading the Panthers this season will be sophomores Otterness, Megan Olson and Abby Mueller and freshman Madison Steffel. Those four return from a team that placed fourth at the Mid-State Conference meet and tallied 143 points to trail Perham (53), Warroad (99), Pequot Lakes (141) and Roseau (142) at the section meet. Olson and Mueller also competed at the state meet in 2011.
Otterness made an immediate impact in her first season by becoming the Panthers’ top runner. Otterness earned all-conference honors with a runner-up finish at the Mid-State meet and qualified for state by placing 12th in her section debut. The Panthers’ MVP capped off the season by placing 104th out of 175 runners at the state meet.
Olson was the Panthers’ No. 2 runner all season, placing eighth to earn all-conference honors at the Mid-State meet and just missing a state berth by finishing 17th at the section meet.
Mueller and Steffel filled the team’s No. 4 and No. 5 spots most of the season. Mueller was the Panthers’ No. 4 runner at the section meet by placing 39th and was the No. 6 runner at the Mid-State meet by finishing 30th while Steffel was the Panthers’ No. 4 runner at the conference meet by finishing 28th and was the No. 5 runner at the section meet by placing 48th.
The Panthers have three key spots to fill with the graduation of Lora Remus, Kaylee Hilmanowski and Morgan Olson. Remus was the Panthers’ No. 3 runner, finishing 21st at the conference meet and 29th at the section meet. Olson was the team’s No. 5 runner at the conference meet by finishing 29th and the No. 7 runner at the section meet by placing 59th while Hilmanowski finished 38th as the No. 7 runner at the conference meet and 56th as the No. 6 runner at the section meet.
Looking to fill those three spots will be junior Nicole Eischens; sophomore Maya Johnson; freshmen Megan Jewison, Lydia Kantonen and Ellery Overmyer; eighth grader Alex Kirlin; and seventh graders Kendra Coborn, Kinley Nordin and Whitney Steffel. Johnson and Jewison competed in one varsity meet each last season.
“The girls are working hard and I think they are excited to see how it all comes together,” said Johnson. “We have some new runners who will be fun to watch and to see where they fit. Our new girls have had successful track seasons, so they are ready to work hard and do what it takes. I see great things for the girls. Even though the girls lost some important seniors, they may be able to pull off a surprise or two this season.”