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Rachel Thelen capped off their season by competing at the state Class A track and field meet. Thelen finished seventh in the pole vault as the Panthers scored 8 points at the state meet. (Vance Carlson / Enterprise)

Panthers' depth, talent spark success

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Corey Hill expected the Park Rapids girls track and field team to have another successful season this spring.

Winning three meet titles, repeating as Subsection 8-29A champs, moving up to third place at the Section 8A meet and winning medals in two events at the state Class A meet highlighted another successful season for the Panthers.

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The main highlights to the season were qualifying six individuals in four events for the state meet. Junior Victoria Lutz, junior Hannah Wolff, sophomore Sophie Shogren and freshman Lydia Lutz brought home medals by placing fifth in the 4 x 800-meter relay with a time of 9:59.01. Senior Rachel Thelen also brought home a medal by placing seventh in the pole vault by clearing 10 feet to tie Jenny Etter's school record. Eighth grader Grace Bateman finished 16th in the 300 hurdles with a career-best time of 48.51 and Thelen placed 19th in the 100 dash with a personal best of 13.05.

"The 4 x 800 relay team reached the goal we set out to accomplish this year, which was a top-five finish in state. I was especially happy to see Rachel tie the school record and win a medal to end her career for Park Rapids. Rachel and Grace didn't make the finals, but they ran personal records in their qualifying heats. They did their best and that's all anybody can do," said Hill. "All-in-all this state meet capped off a very successful season. It was one of the best seasons at Park Rapids in a number of years."

The Panthers opened the season with three indoor meets at Bemidji State University. Park Rapids finished fifth at the 17-team Little Amik I Invitational with 56 points, seventh at the 15-team Lions Invitational with 47 points and third at the 23-team Little Amik II Invitational with 63 points. Bagley/Fosston won both Amik meets with 69.5 and 88 points while Grand Rapids compiled 95 points to lead the way at the Lions meet.

In their outdoor debuts, the Panthers won three consecutive meets by scoring 133 points at the nine-team Park Rapids Invitational, 141 points at the six-team Perham Invitational and 182 points at the eight-team Park Rapids Invitational.

After placing third at the 15-team Crookston Invitational with 108.50 points (East Grand Forks led the way with 128 points) and fourth at the six-team Detroit Lakes Invitational with 93 points (the host Lakers took first with 174 points), the Panthers finished fourth at the 11-team Section 8AA True Team meet with 432 points. East Grand Forks took first with 509.50 points.

Park Rapids followed with another fourth-place showing at the six-team Mid-State Conference meet with 80 points. Staples-Motley led the way with 150 points.

The Panthers repeated as Subsection 8-29A champs with 187 points and qualified 19 individuals for the Section 8A meet. Park Rapids capped off the season by placing third at the Section 8A meet with 79 points to trail only East Grand Forks' 129 points and Bagley/Fosston's 83.50 points.

Bringing home medals in the 4 x 800 relay and pole vault gave the Panthers a share of 39th place at the state Class A meet with 8 points. Bagley/Fosston won the state title with 47 points while East Grand Forks was third with 37 points.

"Overall I thought the state meet was a total success for the girls," said Hill. "We really could not have performed any better than we did. The girls represented our school and community well and we should be very proud of them."

Having plenty of depth enabled the Panthers to contend for titles all season.

In addition to the six state qualifiers, 21 other athletes scored points on the varsity this season.

That group featured senior Alexa Zunich-Andersen; juniors Heather Goodwater, Abby Hanson, Nicole Knott and Shannon Taylor; sophomores Tiffany Deitchler, Chelsea Johnson and Jerika Knott; freshmen Hannah Fischer, Shelby Pierce, Mandy Schirmers and Shannon Thielen; eighth graders Emily Creager, Katherine Erickson, Danielle Hill, Kaylee Hilmanowski, Tori Lauderbaugh and Morgan Olson; and seventh graders Crysta Berens, Ellen Hoffman and Mady Vaudrin.

Also competing on varsity were sophomores Ashley Dickinson, Katie McBurney, Anna Pugh and Eryn Simpson; freshmen Savanna Deitchler and Jenna Polley; eighth graders Jessica Andersen, Courtney Dickinson, Lydia Schaum, Jill Simpson and Alayna Young; and seventh graders Alyssa Day, Molly Drury, Seri Erickson, Charlotte Gruis, Alyssa Hanson, Camryn Knott, Christina Mackley, Alex Pederson, Justine Rittgers and Katy Spears.

The Panthers had 10 athletes earn all-conference honors. Lydia Lutz, Victoria Lutz, Wolff and Pierce won the 4 x 800 relay; Lydia Lutz won the 3,200; Bateman won the 300 hurdles; and Thelen, Bateman, Taylor and Vaudrin won the 4 x 200 relay to earn all-conference honors. Receiving all-conference honorable mention honors for runner-up finishes were the 4 x 400 relay team of Victoria Lutz, Wolff, Schirmers and Pierce; Thelen in the pole vault; and Goodwater in the 100 hurdles.

At the subsection meet, the Panthers had 18 individuals score points. Highlighting that list were winning performances by Lydia Lutz, Victoria Lutz, Shogren and Pierce in the 4 x 800 relay; Lydia Lutz in the 3,200 run; Thelen in the pole vault; and Bateman in the 300 hurdles. Taking second were Victoria Lutz, Shogren, Schirmers and Pierce in the 4 x 400 relay; Thelen, Bateman, Taylor and Vaudrin in the 4 x 200 relay and 4 x 100 relay; Victoria Lutz in the 800 run; Olson in the 3,200 run; and Goodwater in the 100 hurdles.

In addition to qualifying for state in four events, the Panthers scored points in 10 other events at the section meet. Lydia Lutz (third) and Olson (fifth) placed in the 3,200 run; Victoria Lutz placed fourth in the 800 run; Lauderbaugh finished fifth in the high jump; Goodwater was sixth in the 100 hurdles; Vaudrin finished seventh in the 200 dash; Shogren took eighth in the 800 run and Nikki Knott placed eighth in the shot put. Thelen, Bateman, Taylor and Vaudrin finished third in both the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 relays while the 4 x 400 relay team of Victoria Lutz, Shogren, Schirmers and Pierce finished fourth.

For the season, Thelen, Victoria Lutz, Wolff, Lydia Lutz, Bateman, Shogren and Taylor scored more than 200 points while Pierce, Vaudrin, Schirmers, Olson and Nikki Knott scored more than 100 points.

During the season, Thelen captured five titles in the pole vault and ran on two winning 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 relay teams while also scoring points in the 100 dash.

Victoria Lutz ran on 10 winning 4 x 800 relay teams and won two titles in the 800 run during the season. Lutz also ran on three winning 4 x 400 relay teams and won the 400 dash once.

Wolff was a member of 10 winning 4 x 800 relay teams and two winning 4 x 400 relay teams and also finished first in the triple jump once. Wolff also scored points in the 400 dash.

Lydia Lutz finished first in the 3,200 run eight times and first in the 1,600 run once. Lutz also ran on 11 winning 4 x 800 relay teams and one winning 4 x 400 relay team while also scoring points in the high jump.

Bateman won three titles in the 300 hurdles and was a member of two winning 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 relay teams. Bateman also scored points in the 200 and pole vault.

Shogren ran on 10 winning 4 x 800 relay teams and one winning 4 x 400 relay team while placing in the 200, 400, 800 and pole vault during the season. Shogren was a section qualifier in the pole vault by placing fourth at the subsection meet.

Taylor ran on two winning 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 relay teams and also placed in the 200 and long jump during the season.

Pierce ran on three winning 4 x 400 and 4 x 800 relay teams, one winning 4 x 200 relay team and won the 800 run in one meet. Pierce also qualified for the section meet in the 400 by placing fifth at the subsection meet.

Vaudrin made her varsity debut by running on one winning 4 x 200 relay team and placing in the 4 x 100, 100 and 200, where she advanced to the section meet by placing fourth at the subsection meet.

Schirmers ran on two winning 4 x 400 relay teams and scored points in the 400 during the season. Schirmers placed fourth in the 400 at the subsection meet to qualify for the section meet.

Nikki Knott was the Panthers' top thrower, winning the discus in one meet while also placing in the shot put during the season. Knott finished third in the shot put and fifth in the discus to qualify for the section meet in both events.

Goodwater led the Panthers in the 100 hurdles and advanced to the section meet as the subsection runner-up in that event. Goodwater also scored points in the 300 hurdles during the season.

Giving the Panthers depth in the distance events were Olson, Deitchler, Johnson, Hilmanowski, Erickson and Berens. Olson placed in the 1,600 and 3,200 races, qualifying for the section meet in the 3,200 with a runner-up showing at the subsection meet. Deitchler finished third in the 1,600 at the subsection meet to qualify for the section meet and also placed in the 4 x 400 relay during the season. Johnson placed in the 4 x 400 relay and 800 run during the season. Hilmanowski placed in both distance races during the season and took third in the 3,200 run at the subsection meet to advance to the section meet. Erickson earned a section berth by placing fifth in the 1,600 run at the subsection meet. Berens placed in the 3,200 run in one meet during the season.

Lauderbaugh qualified for the section meet in two events after placing fourth in the high jump and fifth in the 300 hurdles at the subsection meet. Lauderbaugh also placed in the shot put at one meet during the season.

Zunich-Andersen and Thielen gave the Panthers depth in both the 100 and 300 hurdles. Zunich-Andersen qualified for the section meet by placing fifth in the 100 hurdles at the subsection meet while Thielen placed third in the 100 hurdles at the subsection meet to earn a trip to the section meet.

Jerika Knott ran on two winning 4 x 100 relay teams while also placing in the 100 during the season.

Hoffman placed in the pole vault and 400 dash, Fischer placed in the triple jump, Creager placed in the 400, Hill placed in the long jump and Camryn Knott placed in the discus during the season.

Even though the Panthers graduate two key performers in Thelen and Zunich-Andersen, Hill is counting on the Panthers to move up in the section and state standings next spring.

"The future looks very bright," said Hill. "I like what I see and the direction we are heading. I look for us to have another successful season next year."

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