Panthers add depth, expecting to improve
Todd Fritze continues to see the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team making progress.
In the two years prior to last season, the Panthers went 0-12 in duals meets, finished third at the Mid-State Conference meet twice, finished last at the Section 3A meet twice and qualified one swimmer for the state Class A meet.
Last year, the Panthers improved to 2-4 in dual meets, claimed runner-up honors at the conference meet, moved up to eighth place at the section meet and qualified five swimmers for the state meet.
Entering this season, the Panthers look to continue making progress with the return of 23 swimmers and divers who competed on varsity last season and the addition of six first-year swimmers and eight seventh graders to the program.
"It's nice to have 37 guys to choose from," said Fritze. "Hopefully quantity will build quality."
Returning to lead the Panthers this season are the four swimmers who qualified for last year's state meet: seniors Sam Goebel and Ryan McBrady, junior Zach Eystad and sophomore Connor Smythe.
Those four met the qualifying time in the 200-yard medley relay to advance to state while Goebel also advanced in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle with a pair of fourth-place finishes at the section meet. At the state meet, the 200 medley relay team finished 21st while Goebel placed 19th in the 50 freestyle and 21st in the 100 freestyle.
In addition to qualifying for state, Goebel, Smythe and Eystad swam on the 200 freestyle relay team that broke the school record with a 1:34.20 en route to placing sixth at the section meet.
The Panthers return plenty of experience from last year's section team. In addition to the four state qualifiers, senior Tyler Booge, juniors Jake Waggoner and Ben Kading, and sophomore Spencer Adolphson competed at the section meet.
Goebel led the Panthers in points with 371 and moved up to the No. 3 spot in the 100 freestyle, the No. 7 spot in the 50 freestyle and the No. 9 spot in the 200 individual medley in school history.
McBrady missed topping the state-qualifying time in the 100 breaststroke by .01 at the section meet and finished second on the team in points with 326.50. McBrady moved up to the No. 8 spot in both the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley in school history. McBrady finished sixth in the 100 breaststroke and 11th in the 200 individual medley at the section meet.
Eystad, who finished with 277.50 points last season, finished 26th in the 100 freestyle and joined McBrady on the 400 freestyle relay team that finished ninth at the section meet.
Smythe compiled 252 points and holds the No. 7 spot in school history in the 100 backstroke. Smythe finished eighth in the 100 backstroke and 22nd in the 50 freestyle at the section meet.
Kading was ninth in points with 162 and placed 22nd in the 500 freestyle at the section meet.
Booge rounded out the top-10 list in points with 154 and placed 16th in the 100 breaststroke at the section meet.
Waggoner finished with 139.50 points and was a section competitor in the 500 freestyle (placing19th) and 200 freestyle (placing 25th).
Adolphson tallied 115.50 points last season and placed 27th in the 100 breaststroke at the section meet.
Also scoring points on varsity last season were senior James Wells (92); juniors Josh Johnson (208), Fred Stinar (83), Christopher Shaw (20) and Kyle Merfeld (10.50); sophomores Steven Osterman (109) and Kalvin Hagan (86); freshmen Tyler Breitweser (77.50), Dillon Schroeder (33.50), Matt Konshok (25.50) and Andrew Zinke (14); and eighth graders Bobby Bruce (22.50), Hunter Utke (11), Andrew Baldwin (7.50) and Marcus McKeever (5).
Goebel, Johnson and Eystad return from the Mid-State champion 200 freestyle relay team while McBrady, Goebel and Eystad return from the conference runner-up 200 medley relay team. McBrady and Johnson, who climbed to No. 4 in the 200 freestyle and No. 8 in the 500 freestyle on the Panthers' all-time list, return from the Mid-State runner-up 400 freestyle relay team.
Also returning as all-conference honorable mention swimmers with runner-up showings are Goebel in the 200 individual medley and 100 freestyle, McBrady in the 100 breaststroke and Johnson in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle.
Providing depth will be senior Jamison Nessman; junior Edgar Guajardo; sophomores Calvin Bateman, Kurt Fritze, Nathan Rak and Iain Wallace; and seventh graders Jack Bateman, Sam Eystad, Jacob Gruis, Connor Shaw, Sean Vedbraaten, Jack Walsh, Tim Walsh and Steven Wattenhofer.
Those first-year varsity swimmers will look to fill in for last year's senior trio of Kevin Merfeld, Nick Belfiori and Zach Lohmeier. Merfeld qualified for the state meet in the 500 freestyle and finished with 217 points last season. Belfiori rounded out the record-setting 200 freestyle relay team, won the conference title in the 50 freestyle and finished third in points with 312. Lohmeier was the Mid-State Conference champion in the 100 butterfly and compiled 209.50 points last season.
"How successful we want to be is in our hands. It all depends on how hard the kids want to work," said Fritze. "We have a lot of new kids and we're doing a lot of teaching right now. Our goal is to find swimmers. If we keep getting better and better every day, good things will happen. I'm excited to see what we can do this season."