Depth helped Panthers dominate
Corey Hill saw the Park Rapids girls track and field team take another step toward reaching the ultimate goal of winning the state Class A title.
The Panthers had another outstanding season by winning four titles and claiming four runner-up finishes in 10 meets during the regular season.
After winning the Subsection 8-29A title for the seventh year in a row, the Panthers turned in another dominating performance to capture the Section 8A title for the third straight year.
The Panthers qualified 10 individuals in nine events for the state meet and ended up tying for 13th place with 21 points. That was the best finish for Park Rapids since placing ninth with 24 points in 1998. Blake won the state title with 39 points.
"We set a lot of high goals this season. We didn't attain all of them, but we came close," said Hill. "I was very pleased with the season."
Leading the Panthers this season were the 10 state qualifiers: seniors Summer Ellefson, Lydia Lutz, Shelby Pierce and Jenna Polley; junior Grace Bateman; sophomore Mady Vaudrin; freshmen Hannah Gorder and Megan Grimes; and eighth graders Sarah Harshman and Heidi Lageson.
At the state meet, Ellefson, Lutz, Pierce and Lageson finished third in the 4 x 800-meter relay; Lutz was fourth in the 3,200 run; Ellefson, Pierce, Bateman and Grimes finished sixth in the 4 x 400 relay; Bateman took eighth in the 300 hurdles; and Bateman, Vaudrin, Grimes and Harshman finished ninth in the 4 x 200 relay to bring home medals.
Pierce placed 11th in the 800, Ellefson was 15th in the 400, Grimes tied for 13th in the high jump, and Polley, Vaudrin, Gorder and Harshman finished 15th in the 4 x 100 relay.
In addition to that group, the Panthers received solid contributions from the other 22 letterwinners. That group featured seniors Bonnie Baumgartner, Danielle Hill and Emily Klingenberg; juniors Jordyn Bynum, Katherine Erickson, Kaylee Hilmanowski, Tori Lauderbaugh and Lora Remus; sophomores Samantha Harshman, Ellen Hoffman, Kayla Johnk, Charity Ridlon and Justine Rittgers; freshman Bria Wolff; eighth graders Paige Hill, Bailee Hofford, Maya Johnson, Abby Mueller, Megan Olson and Tayah Otterness; and seventh graders Ellery Overmyer and Madison Steffel.
The Panthers opened the indoor season by placing fourth at the 22-team Paul Bunyan Invitational with 41.50 points and claiming runner-up honors at the 28-team Little Amik Invitational with 68.42 points. Grand Rapids won the Paul Bunyan title with 134 points while Bemidji won the Little Amik title with 102 points.
In the outdoor openers, the Panthers compiled 177 points to top the seven-team Perham Invitational field and followed by scoring 219.50 points to win the title at the eight-team Park Rapids Lions Invitational.
After earning runner-up honors at the nine-team Park Rapids Enterprise Invitational with 186.75 points (Detroit Lakes took first with 263 points), the Panthers won the 11-team Walker May Day Invitational with 206.50 points and the 15-team Crookston Invitational with 118 points.
Detroit Lakes defeated the Panthers in the next three meets as the Lakers won the Detroit Lakes Invitational with 145.50 points, claimed the Section 8AA True Team title with 505 points and won the Mid-State Conference title with 215 points. Park Rapids finished fourth at the eight-team Detroit Lakes Invitational with 82.50 points and claimed runner-up honors at the nine-team True Team meet with 476 points and at the six-team conference meet with 142 points.
Winning individual titles at the True Team meet were Lutz in the 1,600 and 3,200, Vaudrin in the 100, and Grimes in the high jump. The 4 x 100 relay team of Klingenberg, Polley, Vaudrin and Sarah Harshman also took first as did the 4 x 800 relay team of Pierce, Remus, Olson and Lageson.
At the Mid-State meet, the Panthers won six events and had seven individuals earn all-conference honors. Lutz won the 3,200, Pierce won the 800, Lageson won the 1,600 and Grimes took first in the high jump. The 4 x 800 relay team of Lutz, Ellefson, Pierce and Remus took first as did the 4 x 400 relay team of Ellefson, Pierce, Bateman and Grimes. Receiving all-conference honorable mention honors with runner-up showings were Bateman in the pole vault, Otterness in the 800 and Olson in the 3,200.
The Panthers dominated the subsection meet by winning 14 events and qualifying 24 individuals in 18 events. Winning individual subsection titles were Vaudrin in the 100, Ellefson in the 400, Pierce in the 800, Lageson in the 1,600, Lutz in the 3,200, Grimes in the 100 hurdles and high jump, Bateman in the 300 hurdles, Samantha Harshman in the shot put and Sarah Harshman in the discus. The Panthers also won all four relays behind Sarah Harshman, Polley, Klingenberg and Vaudrin in the 4 x 100; Sarah Harshman, Grimes, Bateman and Vaudrin in the 4 x 200; Bateman, Grimes, Pierce and Ellefson in the 4 x 400; and Lageson, Lutz, Ellefson and Pierce in the 4 x 800. Adding runner-up finishes were Mueller in the 200, Otterness in the 800, Olson in the 3,200, Lauderbaugh in the 100 hurdles and Bateman in the pole vault. Taking third were Polley in the 100, Sarah Harshman in the 200, Hofford in the 100 hurdles, Rittgers in the 300 hurdles, Lauderbaugh in the high jump, Danielle Hill in the long jump, Klingenberg in the triple jump and Johnk in the shot put.
Another dominating team effort led the Panthers to the section title. In addition to winning all four relays, Lutz took first in the 3,200, Bateman won the 100 hurdles and Grimes took first in the high jump. Adding runner-up finishes to advance to state were Ellefson in the 400 and Pierce in the 800.
In addition to qualifying for state, Lutz broke the school record in the 3,200 and Grimes tied the school record in the high jump. Lutz clocked an 11:15.90 in her final home meet to break Tammy McGrane's 1978 record of 11:29.09 and lowered that time to an 11:10.56 to finish seventh at the Hamline Elite Meet. Grimes cleared 5 feet, 4 inches at Detroit Lakes to tie Beth Morris' 1994 mark.
Grimes was named the Panthers' MVP, co-Hardest Worker and Rookie of the Year after leading the team with 336 points. During the season, Grimes took first in the high jump 10 times and in the 100 hurdles three times while running on six winning 4 x 400 relay teams and four winning 4 x 200 relay teams. Grimes also placed in the 300 hurdles during the season and finished fifth in the 100 hurdles at the section meet.
Bateman was second on the team in points with 312, highlighted by eight titles in the 4 x 400 relay, five titles in the 300 hurdles, two titles in the 4 x 200 relay and one title in the 4 x 100 relay. Bateman also scored points in the pole vault, where she finished third at the section meet. Bateman received the team's Most Team Spirit award.
Ellefson compiled 288 points by winning the 400 four times and running on the 4 x 400 relay that won eight titles, the 4 x 800 relay that won seven titles and the 4 x 200 relay that won two titles. Ellefson also scored points in the triple jump.
Pierce won six titles in the 800 and ran on the 4 x 400 relay that won eight titles, the 4 x 800 relay that won seven titles and the 4 x 200 relay that won two titles. Pierce also scored points in the 100 and 400 and finished fourth on the team in points with 288.
Vaudrin scored 235 points for the No. 5 spot on the team. Vaudrin sprinted to three titles in the 100, five titles in the 4 x 100 relay and four titles in the 4 x 200 relay while also placing in the 200. Vaudrin took third in the 100 at the section meet.
Sarah Harshman took first in the discus at two meets and ran on four winning 4 x 100 relay teams and two winning 4 x 200 relay teams. Harshman also placed in the 100 and 200 while compiling 172 points. Harshman took seventh in the 200 at the section meet and was named the Panthers' Newcomer of the Year.
Olson was a consistent scorer in the distance races, winning one title in both the 1,600 and 3,200 and running on six winning 4 x 800 relay teams. Olson also placed in the 4 x 400 relay and ended the season by taking third in the 3,200 run at the section meet. Olson finished the season with 160 points.
Mueller compiled 159 points despite missing the end of the season with a hip injury. Mueller took first in the 100 twice and in the 200 once and ran on three winning 4 x 200 relay teams and one winning 4 x 100 relay team. Mueller also scored points in the 4 x 400, triple jump and long jump.
Lageson was ninth in points with 157, including three titles in the 1,600 and five titles as a member of the 4 x 800 relay team. Lageson also placed in the 3,200 during the season. Lageson placed fourth in the 1,600 at the section meet.
Lutz rounded out the top 10 with 154 points. Lutz competed in only one or two events in every meet, winning seven titles in the 3,200, two titles in the 1,600 and six titles as a member of the 4 x 800 relay team. Lutz shared the team's Hardest Worker honor.
Klingenberg scored 137.50 points and won two titles in the triple jump (where she placed fifth at the section meet) and three titles as a member of the 4 x 100 relay. Klingenberg also scored points in the 4 x 200 relay and 400.
Remus also missed the end of the season, but finished with 125 points. Remus ran on nine winning 4 x 800 relay teams and took first in the 1,600 once while also placing in the 800, 3,200 and 4 x 400 relay during the season.
Polley ran on four winning 4 x 100 relay teams and placed in the 100, 200 and 4 x 200 relay while compiling 121 points.
Lauderbaugh finished the season with 104.50 points by placing in the 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles and high jump. Lauderbaugh finished seventh in the high jump at the section meet.
Otterness scored 93 points by running on three winning 4 x 800 relay teams and one winning 4 x 400 relay team. Otterness also placed in the 800, including an eighth-place showing at the section meet.
Erickson and Rittgers tied for the No. 16 spot with 45 points each. Erickson scored points in the 1,600 and 3,200 and qualified for the section meet in the 1,600 while Rittgers scored points in the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles and ran on one winning 4 x 400 relay team.
Danielle Hill followed with 43 point by placing in the triple jump, long jump, shot put, discus and 4 x 200 relay during the season. Hill qualified for the section meet in the long jump and shot put.
Hoffman scored 39.42 points in the pole vault and 4 x 200 relay.
Samantha Harshman took first in the shot put once and also scored points in the discus. Harshman qualified for the section meet in both events and ended the season with 36 points.
Hofford finished eighth in the 100 hurdles in her section debut and scored 24 points in that event, the long jump and 4 x 200 relay during the season. Hofford earned the team's Most Improved honor.
Wolff tallied 20.50 points in the high jump, triple jump and 300 hurdles.
Baumgartner competed in the pole vault and scored 19.50 points. Baumgartner also placed in the 4 x 200 relay and qualified for the section meet in the pole vault.
Paige Hill qualified for the section meet in the triple jump and scored 19.50 points in that event and the 4 x 200 relay.
Gorder missed most of the season, but returned to earn a state berth and score 18 points in the sprint relays.
Overmyer scored 15 points in the 400 and 800, Hilmanowski scored 14 points in the 1,600 and 4 x 800 relay, Johnson scored 13 points in the 400 and discus, Johnk scored 10 points in the shot put and discus and qualified for the section meet in the shot put, Steffel qualified for the section meet in the 800 and scored 10 points in that event, Bynum scored 10 points in the 200 and 4 x 200 relay, and Ridlon scored 3.25 points in the high jump.
Also scoring points on the varsity this season were eighth graders Ava Mart (4 points), Emma Ellefson (2 points) and Chloe Hauth (2 points); and seventh graders Jasmin Cease (3 points), Rachel Palmer (3 points), Sarah Gorder (3 points), Katelynn Warmbold (2 points), Julia Smith (2 points) and Haley MacPherson (1 point).
"I was very pleased with how the girls performed all season and especially at the subsection, section and state meets," said Hill, who was named Section 8A Coach of the Year. "We set a goal eight years ago to send all four relays to state and take a bus to state. Our goal was to go after the (first-place) trophy at state. We did or best, but finished 18 points short of first. It was exciting to see the girls go out and accomplish all that they did this year. I was very proud of the kids."
The Panthers will have several key spots to fill with the graduation of the seven seniors. Lutz competed in six state meets, placing seventh in the 1,600 in 2010, ninth in the 3,200 in 2008 and 14th in the 3,200 in 2007 while running on the 4 x 800 relay team five times. Ellefson and Pierce ran on the 4 x 800 relay team three times, including on the state runner-up team that set a school record with a 9:29.44 in 2010. Ellefson also placed 15th in the 400 last year while Pierce finished 14th in the 800 last season. Those two also ran on the 4 x 400 relay that took ninth last season. Lutz scored 1,173 points during her varsity career while Pierce (1,021) and Ellefson (973) followed close behind.
On the positive side, the Panthers will return plenty of talent and state experience. Even though Grimes, Sarah Harshman and Gorder were making their state debuts, Bateman earned her third trip to state after placing 16th in 2009 and 17th in 2011 in the 300 hurdles while Vaudrin finished 21st in the 100 dash in 2010. Hill is counting on that group to lead the Panthers to another dominating season next spring.
"There are no words to describe what we lose in the seniors. They had a dream and they accomplished a lot. They leave the program in better shape than when they started," said Hill. "We're going to be in good shape next year. We have a lot of talented athletes coming back and they have big goals they want to accomplish. Our dream is to be the state champion. We look forward to next year. We are in line for a run at our fourth straight section title and we will have our sights set on returning to state to take another crack at that state team trophy."