Expectations remain high as Panthers aim to defend section title
Todd Fritze feels the Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team has the potential to produce a perfect season this fall.
The Panthers almost had a perfect season last fall by going 7-1 in dual meets, winning the Section 8A True Team title with 1,167 points (Bemidji was a close second with 1,161 points), claiming the Mid-State Conference title with 465 points (Perham was a distant second with 364 points) and dominating the Section 8A meet by compiling 422.50 points (Bemidji was a distant second with 307.50 points).
At the state Class A True Team meet, the Panthers finished ninth out of 12 teams with 1,178.50 points (Monticello won the state title with 2,149 points). At the state Class A meet, the Panthers placed in one event and scored 7 points to finish in 36th place (Hutchinson won the state title with 213 points).
With a veteran and talented group returning, the Park Rapids head coach feels the Panthers have the potential to go undefeated in dual meets and repeat as Section 8A True Team, Mid-State Conference and Section 8A champions. Fritze also feels his team is capable of duplicating or exceeding last year's feat of sending eight individuals to the state Class A meet in eight events and placing in more than one event.
"We always have high expectations," said Fritze, who will be assisted by Amie Westberg and Kristi Goochey. "We want to be competitive in the conference and section and we want to compete at state on the second day. We have some unfinished business from the state meet. Hopefully that will be a motivating factor for the girls."
Returning to lead the Panthers are seniors Mandy Schirmers and Allycia Zinke; juniors Emily Creager, Katherine Erickson and Hannah Williams; and freshman Lauren Rossman. All six competed in last year's state meet.
At state, Creager finished 23rd in the 100-yard freestyle and 27th in the 200 freestyle, Erickson finished 18th in the 100 backstroke and Schirmers finished 25th in the 200 individual medley and 27th in the 100 breaststroke. Creager, Erickson and Williams swam on the 400 freestyle relay team that finished 18th. The 200 medley relay team of Schirmers, Erickson, Zinke and Rossman was disqualified as was the 200 freestyle relay team, which featured Creager, Schirmers, Rossman and Zinke.
In addition to that group, the Panthers return six other swimmers and divers who scored points at last year's section meet. That group features juniors Jessi Andersen and Heather Kniss; sophomores Ellen Hoffman, Taylor Graham and Christina Mackley; and freshman Jessie O'Hern.
Also returning after competing at last year's section meet are junior Elizabeth Nichols, sophomore Seri Erickson, and eighth grader Alyza Edevold.
Looking to provide depth and fill starting spots will be freshmen Emily Eystad and Danielle Lockrem; eighth graders Kayla Andersen, Emma Ellefson, Paige Fritze, MacKenzie Hensel, Tea Nyland, Isabella Simonson and Carly Waggoner; and seventh graders Lizzie Bannerman, Jasmine Cease, Lydia Christensen, Caroline Drury, Rachel Konshok, Sarah Merfeld, Joelle Nagel, Myah Schultz and Trinah Szafranski.
Those swimmers will be looking to help replace last senior class of Taylor Ondracek (who finished 10th in the 100 backstroke at the state meet and tallied 253.50 points last season), Leah Meinert (who rounded out the state 400 freestyle relay team and scored 345 points last season) and Melissa Haas (who scored 235.50 points last year).
Looking to repeat as conference champs will be Erickson, Schirmers, Zinke and Rossman in the 200 medley relay; Zinke, Williams and Creager in the 200 freestyle relay; and Erickson in the 100 backstroke. Also earning all-conference honorable mention honors last season were Creager in the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay; Schirmers in the 200 individual medley, 100 breaststroke and 400 freestyle relay; Rossman in the 50 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay; Zinke in the 100 butterfly; Kniss in the 400 freestyle relay; and Hoffman in diving.
The Panthers won the section title last season despite not winning a single event. The Panthers used seven runner-up finishes and Ondracek's qualifying time in the 100 backstroke to qualify for state in eight events. Erickson, Meinert, Williams and Creager broke the school record in the 400 freestyle relay with a 3:47.61 at the section meet.
Erickson led the Panthers with 497 points and moved up on the team's all-time list in the 100 backstroke (second with a 1:01.87), 200 freestyle (third with a 2:02.65) and 500 freestyle (sixth with a 5:46.65). In addition to qualifying for state in three events, Erickson placed third in the 200 freestyle at the section meet.
Schirmers was second in points with 487.50 and moved into the No. 2 spot all-time in the 100 breaststroke (with a 1:10.52) and the No. 4 spot in the 200 individual medley (with a 2:21.93). Schirmers will be looking to return to state in four events this season.
Zinke finished third in points with 474 and currently ranks No. 3 all-time in the 100 butterfly (with a 1:04.04) and No. 5 in the 200 individual medley (with a 2:23.21). Zinke finished third in both those races at the section meet.
Creager received the Panthers' Most Valuable award after breaking the school record in the 200 freestyle with a 2:01.44. Creager also ranks third in school history in the 100 freestyle with a 55.75 and will also be seeking to return to state in four events.
Rossman was fifth in points with 365.50 and took over the No. 10 spot all-time in the 50 freestyle with a 26.47. Rossman placed fourth in the 100 freestyle and 11th in the 50 freestyle at the section meet.
Williams was sixth in points with 353 and moved up to the No. 5 spot in the 100 breaststroke (with a 1:13.83) and the No. 8 spot in the 200 individual medley (with a 2:24.54). Williams finished fourth in the 100 breaststroke and fifth in the 200 individual medley at the section meet.
Jessi Andersen finished eighth in diving and 13th in the 100 backstroke at the section meet to end the season with 229 points for 10th place. Andersen holds the No. 9 spot all-time in diving with 161.85 points.
Kniss followed with 222.50 points and ended the season by placing 14th in the 100 freestyle and 15th in diving at the section meet.
Graham placed ninth in the 100 butterfly and 28th in the 50 freestyle at the section meet and ended the season with 183.50 points. Graham ranks No. 9 in school history in the 100 butterfly with a 1:07.42.
Hoffman claimed the No. 10 spot in diving with 161.65 points and finished ninth in that event at the section meet. Hoffman also tied for 14th place in the 100 backstroke at the section meet and ended the season with 173.50 points.
Mackley compiled 130.50 points last season and finished 14th in the 100 butterfly and 21st in the 50 freestyle at the section meet.
Seri Erickson placed 18th in the 500 freestyle and 25th in the 200 freestyle at the section meet to finish the season with 97.50 points.
Nichols was a section competitor in the 100 butterfly (placing 17th) and ended the season with 96.50 points.
O'Hern compiled 76.50 points and ended the season by placing ninth in the 100 breaststroke at the section meet.
Edevold had 71 points and finished 25th in the 500 freestyle and 26th in the 200 freestyle at the section meet.
Also scoring points in varsity meets last season were Kayla Andersen (39), Nyland (29.50), Eystad (28), Waggoner (19.50), Simonson (17), Fritze (13.50), Lockrem (1.50) and Hensel (1.50).
"We're down a little in the distances, but we should be solid everywhere else. We need the younger kids to step up. They have another year under their belts and we need them to take responsibility for their roles," said Fritze. "I'm excited for the season. We have the potential to have another good year. The girls have to remember that it took a lot of hard work to get to this point. If the girls do their job and continue to work hard, we should be pretty tough."