Depth led Panthers to successful season
Todd Fritze likes the direction the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving program is going.
Having 30 swimmers and divers helped the Panthers go 3-1-1 in dual meets, claim runner-up honors at the Mid-State Conference meet, finish sixth at the Section 5A meet and see senior Connor Smythe qualify for the state Class A meet in two events.
Smythe provided the main highlight to the season by placing third in the 100-yard freestyle and second in the 100-yard backstroke at the Section 5A meet to advance to state. Smythe capped off his senior season by placing 11th in the 100 freestyle and 14th in the 100 backstroke with school-record times at the state meet.
The Panthers started off the season by placing second at the five-team Fergus Falls Invitational with 456 points. Fergus Falls took first with 557 points.
Park Rapids went 2-1-1 in the first four dual meets with a 105-81 loss to Sauk Centre/Melrose, a 93-93 tie with Bemidji and victories over Perham (106-71) and Detroit Lakes (95-91).
After placing fifth at the seven-team Section 5A True Team meet with 880.50 points (Melrose/Sauk Centre took first with 1,177 points), the Panthers closed out their dual schedule with a 118-64 win over Thief River Falls.
The Panthers captured titles at the four-team Detroit Lakes Invitational with 625 points and at the three-team Park Rapids Invitational with 901 points. Detroit Lakes defeated the Panthers at the Mid-State Conference meet with 484 points. The Panthers were second with 478 points.
At the Section 5A meet, the Panthers compiled 237 points to finish sixth out of nine teams behind Fergus Falls (390), Alexandria (361), M/SC (357), Detroit Lakes (258) and Bemidji (240).
Smythe capped off the season by breaking Jonah Winter’s school record of 49.94 set in 2003 with a 49.57 during preliminaries of the 100 freestyle en route to an 11th-place finish for 6 points and broke his own school record with a 56.15 during preliminaries en route to placing 14th in the 100 backstroke for 3 points to give Park Rapids 9 points for 32nd place at the state meet.
In addition to Smythe, seniors Spencer Adolphson, Calvin Bateman, Kurt Fritze, Kalvin Hagan, Nathan Rak and Iain Wallace; juniors Tyler Breitweser, Matt Konshok, Isaac Overmyer, Dillon Schroeder and Andrew Zinke; sophomores Jordan Raidt and Hunter Utke; freshmen Jack Bateman, Kaleb Carlson, Sam Eystad, Per Jorgenson, Jack Walsh, Tim Walsh and Steven Wattenhofer; eighth graders Zach Behrens, Matthew Benson, Bradley Graham, Samuel Huot, Casmir Simonson, James Utke and Peter Vanbatavia; and seventh graders Seth Breitweser and Spencer Fritze led the Panthers to another successful season. Of that group, 19 competed at the section meet while all 30 scored points on the varsity.
“I thought we had an excellent season,” said Fritze. “We had good numbers and we had the most kids qualify for sections that we’ve had in a while. The program is going in the right direction.”
At the conference meet, Smythe won the 100 freestyle to earn all-conference honors. Earning all-conference honorable mention honors by placing second were Smythe, Spencer Fritze, Adolphson and Konshok in the 200 medley relay; Benson in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle; Adolphson in the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly; Hagan in diving and the 100 breaststroke; Kurt Fritze, Spencer Fritze, Benson and Konshok in the 200 freestyle relay; and Smythe in the 100 backstroke. Also earning all-conference honorable mention honors by placing third were Simonson, Hagan, Tyler Breitweser and Hunter Utke in the 200 medley relay; Kurt Fritze in the 50 freestyle; Hunter Utke, Jack Bateman, Wallace and Behrens in the 200 freestyle relay; and Kurt Fritze, Benson, Tyler Breitweser and Smythe in the 400 freestyle relay.
At the section meet, the Panthers scored points in all 12 events while Erin Foley was named the Section 5A Assistant Coach of the Year. Park Rapids was also named the Section 5A Academic Champions.
In addition to Smythe’s two state-qualifying showings, also placing in the section finals were Smythe, Hagan, Adolphson and Konshok in the 200 medley relay (fifth); Konshok in the 50 freestyle (eighth); Hagan (sixth) and Tyler Breitweser (seventh) in diving; Benson in the 500 freestyle (fourth); Kurt Fritze, Smythe, Spencer Fritze and Konshok in the 200 freestyle relay (fifth); Hagan in the 100 breaststroke (eighth); and Kurt Fritze, Adolphson, Behrens and Benson in the 400 freestyle relay (seventh).
Placing in the consolation finals were Benson in the 200 freestyle (11th); Adolphson (11th) and Simonson (16th) in the 200 individual medley; Kurt Fritze in the 50 freestyle (11th); Kurt Fritze (14th) and Spencer Fritze (15th) in diving); Adolphson (ninth) and Huot (15th) in the 100 butterfly; Konshok in the 100 freestyle (14th); Graham in the 500 freestyle (12th); Tyler Breitweser (ninth) and Simonson (12th) in the 100 backstroke; and Hunter Utke in the 100 breaststroke (12th).
Also competing at the section meet were Behrens (19th), Wallace (23rd) and Eystad (24th) in the 200 freestyle; Huot (21st) and Graham (22nd) in the 200 individual medley; Spencer Fritze in the 50 freestyle (17th); Zinke in the 100 butterfly (21st); Behrens (19th) and Hunter Utke (21st) in the 100 freestyle; Wallace (18th) and Eystad (19th) in the 500 freestyle; Tim Walsh in the 100 backstroke (18th); and Calvin Bateman (17th) and Overmyer (19th) in the 100 breaststroke.
Smythe was named the Panthers’ MVP after leading the team with 371 points. In addition to holding school records in the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke, Smythe ranks No. 4 in the 200 individual medley. Hagan took over the No. 1 spot in school history for 11 dives while Tyler Breitweser (No. 4), Spencer Fritze (No. 6) and Kurt Fritze (No. 7) also climbed into the top 10. Hagan ranks No. 4, Tyler Breitweser is No. 9 and Kurt Fritze is No. 10 in school history for six dives. Benson moved up to the No. 7 spot in the 500 freestyle and No. 10 spot in the 200 freestyle while Konshok moved up the No. 10 spot in the 50 freestyle.
Benson was second in points this season with 314, Konshok was third with 285.50 points, Adolphson was fourth with 285 points and Kurt Fritze was fifth with 282 points while Tyler Breitweser (269.50), Spencer Fritze (259), Behrens (205.50), Wallace (157.50) and Hunter Utke (157) rounded out the top 10. Benson was named the team’s Hardest Worker/Most Dedicated.
Also scoring at least 100 points were Graham (153), Simonson (141), Hagan (137.50), Huot (131.50), Overmyer (118), Zinke (117.50) and Eystad (115). Zinke received the team’s Spirit Award while Overmyer shared the team’s Most Improved honor.
The other swimmers who scored points on the varsity were Calvin Bateman (76.50), Jack Bateman (76.50), Tim Walsh (69.50), Jack Walsh (68.50), Rak (60.50), James Utke (56.50), Jorgenson (55), Schroeder (36.50), Vanbatavia (21.50), Carlson (18), Raidt (16.50), Seth Breitweser (15.50) and Wattenhofer (9). Vanbatavia shared the team’s Most Improved honor.
Although the Panthers have several key spots to replace with the graduation of the seven seniors, Fritze is counting on the returning swimmers and divers to produce another successful season next winter.
“We have some big holes to fill with the graduation of the seven seniors. You can’t replace that talent, but we have a lot of talent coming back,” said Fritze. “I think the kids realized this year just how good we can be. We always want to be better than the year before. If the kids commit to being excellent, I think we’ll be pretty decent next year.”