Panthers enjoy successful seasons
Kerry Johnson couldn't have been happier with the success of the Park Rapids boys and girls cross-country teams this season.
The girls team returned a veteran lineup and was ranked in the Class A polls all season, capping off the year with a trip to the state meet.
The boys team featured a lineup of first-year runners who finished in the lower end of meets all season, but showed progress all fall.
Even though the results may have been different, Johnson thought both teams were equally successful.
"Overall I thought the season for both teams went very well. Both teams met my expectations. I knew that every time they ran, they were giving it their all. That was what I expected. I really couldn't ask for anything more. Running is tough; it takes so much mental toughness. These runners have that," said Johnson, who shared the Section 8A Coach of the Year award. "It was great to have so many runners. I felt spread out a little thin this season trying to work with all the runners, but it's a great problem to have. The first-year runners brought a new perspective to the program. Each day and each meet was a new experience for them, so it was fun to see their reactions. They definitely pushed the veterans and motivated them to train harder. I hope that I'm spread even thinner next year and that more and more kids recognize just what a unique experience it is to be part of cross country."
State trip highlights season for girls
Going into the season, Johnson knew the girls had an excellent chance to qualify for the state meet for the first time since 1998.
Having five veterans to provide leadership and two newcomers to provide depth led the Panthers to the state meet.
During the season, the Panthers won four meet titles and finished second in two other meets. Park Rapids was rated in the state poll all season, climbing as high as No. 5 before entering the state meet rated No. 8. The Panthers improved on that ranking by finishing fifth at the state meet.
Leading the Panthers this season were the veterans: senior Victoria Lutz; juniors Tiffany Deitchler, Sophie Shogren and Chelsea Johnson; sophomores Victoria Lutz and Allie Bade; and freshman Morgan Olson. Providing a spark as first-year runners were sophomore Summer Ellefson and freshman Kaylee Hilmanowski.
Lydia Lutz was the Panthers' No. 1 runner all season and was named the team's Most Valuable. Shogren received the Hardest Worker award, Olson was named Most Improved and Victoria Lutz received the Team Spirit award and was the Panthers' captain.
The Panthers opened the season by placing third at the 12-team Moorhead Invitational with 96 points. Moorhead led the field with 46 points. Leading Park Rapids at that meet were Lydia Lutz (fifth), Victoria Lutz (sixth), Ellefson (29th), Hilmanowski (35th) and Olson (41st).
Park Rapids won the title at the 10-team Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational with 49 points and was ranked No. 12 in the state. Lydia Lutz and Victoria Lutz finished second and fifth, respectively, while Ellefson (13th), Hilmanowski (17th) and Deitchler (19th) rounded out the Panthers' team score.
Lydia Lutz and Victoria Lutz went 1-2 in leading the Panthers to the team title at the nine-team Pelican Rapids Invitational with 25 points. Shogren (sixth), Hilmanowski (ninth) and Deitchler (10th) completed the team score as the Panthers moved up to the No. 10 spot in the state Class A poll.
The Panthers led the 19-team field at the Bagley/Fosston Invitational with 93 points. Lydia Lutz finished first and was rated No. 11 in the state poll. Olson (19th), Deitchler (21st), Hilmanowski (27th) and Ellefson (28th) rounded out the team score as the Panthers climbed to the No. 8 spot in the state rankings.
At the Milaca Mega Meet, the Panthers finished third out of 27 teams with 123 points. Holy Family took first with 105 points. Leading the Panthers were Lydia Lutz (sixth), Victoria Lutz (seventh), Deitchler (36th), Shogren (42nd) and Hilmanowski (46th).
Park Rapids moved up to the No. 5 spot in the state rankings and finished fourth at the 13-team Fergus Falls Invitational with 103 points. Perham, the No. 1-ranked team in the state, took first with 51 points. Lydia Lutz (who was ranked No. 9 in the state) and Victoria Lutz tied for eighth place while Olson (22nd), Deitchler (28th) and Hilmanowski (38th) rounded out the team score.
Lydia Lutz (sixth), Victoria Lutz (eighth), Olson (26th), Ellefson (31st) and Hilmanowski (34th) led the Panthers to third place at the 15-team Perham Invitational with 103 points. Moorhead took first with 41 points.
One of the highlights of the season was at Headwaters Country Club when the Panthers captured the Mid-State Conference title for the first time since 1993. The Panthers, who were ranked No. 8 in the state, tallied 31 points to defeat Staples-Motley's 45 points for the title. Lydia Lutz (first), Victoria Lutz (second), Olson (fifth) and Ellefson (10th) received all-conference honors while Hilmanowski (15th) completed the winning team score. Lydia Lutz was ranked No. 11 and Victoria Lutz was rated No. 13 in the state poll that week.
Another solid team effort led the Panthers to runner-up honors at the Park Rapids Invitational with 72 points. Perham took first with 35 points. Lydia Lutz (second), Victoria Lutz (fourth), Olson (20th), Ellefson (23rd) and Hilmanowski (26th) led the Panthers.
Entering the Section 8A meet, the Panthers were rated No. 7 as a team while Lydia Lutz (No. 10) and Victoria Lutz (No. 15) were rated individually in the state poll. The Panthers qualified for the state meet with a runner-up total of 81 to trail only Perham's 48 in the 20-team meet. Leading the Panthers to state were Lydia Lutz (second), Victoria Lutz (fifth), Ellefson (17th), Olson (27th) and Hilmanowski (30th). Deitchler (31st) and Shogren (49th) rounded out the section team.
At the state Class A meet, the Panthers finished fifth with 190 points. Waseca led the 16-team field with 81 points. Lydia Lutz earned all-state honors by placing 20th overall. In the team standings, Lydia Lutz was 14th, Victoria Lutz was 22nd, Ellefson was 38th, Hilmanowski finished 52nd, Olson was 64th, Deitchler was 81st and Shogren finished 102nd. Out of 159 runners, Victoria Lutz was 40th, Ellefson was 75th, Hilmanowski was 96th, Olson was 109th, Deitchler was 129th and Shogren was 150th.
In addition to excelling in cross country, the Panthers received a Silver Award for academics with a 3.71 cumulative GPA.
"The girls had a terrific season," said Johnson. "I started to see what was possible after they won the Wadena meet. I saw how we had a pretty even team and that other teams would have to be very strong to beat us."
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers return a strong nucleus and should once again be one of the top teams in the state.
"Victoria will be hard to replace. She was in single digits pretty much all year and had a terrific season. She worked hard this summer and I hope others will follow her lead," said Johnson. "I know the girls will continue to work hard. Lydia is tough and I look for her to be even stronger next season. Morgan, Kaylee and Summer pushed each other in all our races. I'm looking for even better things next year. I look to Sophie, Tiffany and Chelsea to step up and help lead the team next year. Allie just gets better every season. We have such a strong group returning. The girls team will be a target for other teams and if they don't work hard, they won't be at the top of the section again."
Boys team shows improvement
In terms of improving from the first meet to the last, the Park Rapids boys team had just as a successful season as the girls.
Of the 10 boys who competed on varsity this season, only one - junior Zac Haugland - competed on varsity last season and one other - junior Matt Sullivan - had ran in a cross-country meet.
The rest of the varsity was comprised of first-year runners. That group featured senior Jared Storseth; juniors Taylor Kimball, Josh Hays and Kevin Merfeld; sophomores Sam Goebel and Ryan McBrady; and freshmen Jake Waggoner and Jacob Hays.
Kimball was the Panthers' No. 1 runner all season and was named the Most Valuable. Storseth served as captain and received the Team Spirit award. Sullivan was named Hardest Worker and Merfeld was named Most Improved.
The Panthers opened the season by placing ninth at the 12-team Moorhead Invitational with 287 points. Moorhead took first with 26 points. Leading the Panthers were Kimball (46th), Haugland (54th), Goebel (67th), Waggoner (77th) and Storseth (86th).
At the Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational, the Panthers finished fifth out of 12 teams with 141 points. Long Prairie-Grey Eagle took first with 37 points. Kimball (17th), Haugland (29th), Goebel (37th), Waggoner (42nd) and Storseth (47th) comprised the Panthers' team score.
Kimball finished fifth in leading the Panthers to fourth place at the nine-team Pelican Rapids Invitational with 80 points. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton took first with 68 points. Haugland (11th), Goebel (13th), Waggoner (31st) and Storseth (35th) rounded out the team score.
Park Rapids finished 14th at the 21-team Bagley/Fosston Invitational with 340 points. Bemidji took first with 45 points. Leading the Panthers were Kimball (26th), Haugland (79th), Waggoner (90th), Goebel (91st) and Jacob Hays (102nd).
At the Milaca Mega Meet, the Panthers ran only five runners and finished 21st out of 28 teams with 566 points. LP-GE led the way with 97 points. Competing for the Panthers were Kimball (56th), Storseth (126th), Merfeld (127th), Sullivan (128th) and Josh Hays (129th).
The Panthers finished 10th at the 13-team Fergus Falls Invitational with 215 points behind Kimball (33rd), Haugland (41st), Goebel (48th), Waggoner (51st) and Jacob Hays (54th). Perham took first with 46 points.
At the Perham Invitational, the Panthers finished 13th out of 16 teams with 310 points. Moorhead led the way with 19 points. Leading Park Rapids at that meet were Kimball (39th), Haugland (59th), Goebel (77th), Waggoner (83rd) and Jacob Hays (88th).
Park Rapids finished sixth at the Mid-State Conference meet with 151 points. Detroit Lakes won the conference title with 31 points. Kimball (19th), Haugland (30th), Goebel (33rd), Storseth (34th) and Waggoner (35th) led the Panthers.
At the Park Rapids Invitational, the Panthers finished 10th out of 16 teams with 239 points. Perham took first with 28 points. Comprising the Panthers' team score were Kimball (20th), Haugland (44th), Waggoner (59th), Goebel (61st) and Jacob Hays (67th).
Park Rapids capped off the season by placing 11th at the 22-team Section 8A meet with 338 points. Perham won the section title with 28 points. Leading the Panthers were Kimball (47th), Haugland (49th), Waggoner (76th), Jacob Hays (81st) and Storseth (85th). Goebel (86th) and McBrady (101st) rounded out the section team.
The Panthers also received a Silver Award with a team GPA of 3.70.
With a year of experience, Johnson is looking for the Panthers to continue to improve and move up in the team standings next season.
"There were so many new runners on the guys' team and now I think they see what it takes to improve. It is going to take some summer running and commitment to work to get better every season. I think they see that," said Johnson. "I'm looking to the guys to be even stronger next year. I hope they all come out again and that we get some new runners. Taylor was a great addition and I think he will be an even better runner next year. Zac is a great leader and improved so much this year. I look for Matt, Kevin, Sam, Ryan, Josh, Jacob and Jake to get after it this summer and come back next fall even better. All the runners need to train this summer. If they do that, I look for great things next year."