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Panthers entered section meet confident of qualifying for state

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Entering last Saturday's finals of the Section 8A girls swimming and diving meet at Warroad, Park Rapids seniors Katherine Erickson, Hannah Williams and Emily Creager were confident this would not be their last high school meet.

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Juniors Ellen Hoffman, Alex Pederson and Taylor Graham; sophomore Lauren Rossman; and freshman Kayla Andersen were also confident that their seasons would be extended.

All eight Park Rapids swimmers and divers fulfilled their goals by getting to compete at least one more time by qualifying for the state Class A meet.

Erickson, Williams, Graham and Rossman earned a state berth with a runner-up finish in the 200-yard medley relay. Erickson followed by breaking the school record and winning the 200 freestyle. Hoffman claimed the final state berth in diving by placing fourth. Rossman, Pederson, Andersen and Creager earned a state berth with a runner-up finish in the 200 freestyle relay. Erickson earned another state berth by taking second in the 100 backstroke. Williams also claimed a state berth with a runner-up finish in the 100 breaststroke. The three seniors capped off the section meet by joining Rossman on the winning 400 freestyle relay team.

Qualifying for state was especially sweet for the three seniors.

Erickson earned her fourth straight trip to state and qualified in four events for the second year in a row after qualifying in the 500 freestyle, 100 backstroke, medley relay and 400 freestyle relay last season. Creager also earned her fourth consecutive trip to state and competed in four events at state last season after qualifying in the 200 freestyle, 100 freestyle, medley relay and 400 freestyle relay. Williams capped off her senior season by earning her second trip to state.

"I'm happy I made it in all four events," said Erickson. "I believe I can drop time. I had my best times at state last year, so I'm hoping to do that again this year."

"I really wanted to make it to state in all four events," said Creager, who just missed qualifying in four events after placing third in both the 200 freestyle and 100 freestyle at the section meet. "I was pretty disappointed getting third in both the 100 and 200, but I'm glad I made it to state in the two relays."

"I really wanted to get to state in the 100 breaststroke and I finally got there. All the hard work was worth it," said Williams, who was a member of the 400 freestyle relay team that competed at state in 2010. "This is the best way to end my senior year."

All eight were looking to advance to the state finals, which will be held today (Saturday) at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

Medley relay sets the tone

The members of the medley relay were confident of qualifying for state after taking first during last Friday's preliminaries.

Park Rapids was seeded third with a 1:59.59, but led the field with a 1:55.27 during preliminaries. Erickson led off the backstroke with a 29.10, Williams went 32.33 in the breaststroke, Graham had a 28.17 split in the butterfly and Rossman finished with a 25.67 split in the freestyle. Bemidji was second with a 1:56.26.

"I felt confident we would go," said Erickson. "We were ranked first after the first day, but we knew Bemidji would go faster. I knew it would be close, but I felt really good about our chances as long as we swam our best."

"I thought our chances were pretty strong. I knew we had to swim lights out, but I knew every girl tapered well and we would drop a lot of time," said Williams. "We were pretty pumped (after preliminaries). After that we knew we could do it. That gave us a lot of confidence. We just had to relax and swim our races and we'd get in the top 2."

"I knew we had a strong medley. We were pretty confident after we got first on the first day," said Graham. "We knew Bemidji was holding back the first day, but taking first was a great confidence booster. The medley sets everything up and we wanted the medley to set the tone."

"I knew it would be close. I was hoping our taper worked and we'd drop time and we did," said Rossman, who swam on the medley relay and 200 freestyle relay teams that qualified for state in 2010. "I knew if we gave it our all like we did on Friday that we'd go to state."

In the finals, Bemidji ended up winning the section title in 1:54.08 while the Panthers followed in 1:56.03. Fergus Falls was third in 1:56.88. Erickson led off with a 28.89, Williams clocked a 32.73, Graham had a split of 28.76 and Rossman finished in 25.65 as the Panthers claimed the second state berth.

The Panthers entered the state meet seeded No. 24 out of 26 qualifiers. Moving up from that spot and attempting to break the school record of 1:53.85 set by Erickson, Mandy Schirmers, Allycia Zinke and Creager last season are the main goals of this year's medley relay team.

"I want to make it to the second day. The last three years the medley hasn't made it to the second day," said Erickson, who swam the backstroke leg on the medley relay team that finished 19th in 2009 and was disqualified the last two seasons. "The times are ridiculously close. I think we'll all swim faster. It would be really cool to make it to the second day."

"I hope we drop a little more time, move up and get to the second day," said Williams. "I hope we can break the school record. That would be a nice way to end my senior year."

"I think swimming with the fast girls down there will give us the push we need," said Graham. "I want to break the school record. I think we can get it."

"I hope we all swim good and get our time down to at least a 1:54," said Rossman. "Hopefully we'll swim the second day."

Erickson breaks record

Erickson's first trip to state in the 200 freestyle was bittersweet.

During the preliminaries, Erickson took first in 2:02.16 while Creager followed in 2:03.91. Erickson's seed time was a 2:08.19 while Creager had a seed time of 2:06.84.

"After the first day I felt really confident," said Erickson. "I had a good lane and I was ready to go. I had a lot of confidence."

In the finals, Erickson dropped time and won the section title with a 2:00.24. That broke Creager's school record of 2:01.44 set in 2010. Bemidji's Lexie Hendricks, who finished seventh during preliminaries with a 2:09.17, finished second in 2:01.73 while Creager took third in 2:02.90.

"I thought Emily and I were going to take first and second," said Erickson. "Lexi came out of nowhere."

Erickson, who entered the state meet seeded No. 19 out of 25 qualifiers, was looking to move up and qualify for the finals in her state debut in the 200 freestyle.

"I really want to go under 2 minutes. I was so close (at sections). That's my goal at state," said Erickson. "I definitely want to get in the top 16. It's going to be hard, but I want to get to the second day."

Hoffman returns in diving

Finishing strong on her final three dives during preliminaries gave Hoffman the confidence of earning a return trip to state in diving.

Hoffman ended preliminaries in third place with 228.40 points. Bemidji's Kylei Grosfield was first with 270.10 points and Detroit Lakes' Kyley Foster was second with 268.70 points. Fergus Falls' Rachel Appert (222.40) and Detroit Lakes' Mathia Olds (216.10) and Hannah Brady (212.750 followed.

"I thought my chances were pretty good. After I made it last year, I knew I could do it again," said Hoffman. "After Friday I was sitting in third. I felt pretty good about that. I had two dives in the middle that I missed, but I pulled myself together."

Hoffman's final three dives on Saturday were solid as the Park Rapids junior ended up finishing fourth with 314.85 points. Grosfield (384.80), Foster (363.80) and Olds (321.35) earned the other state berths while Appert (302.35) finished fifth.

"I was a little nervous because it was so close. My three dives felt good. After my second dive, I was pretty confident because I have a high difficulty on my last dive and I've been getting good scores on that dive all year," said Hoffman. "I'm happy with fourth. My goal was to get back to state, so I'm satisfied."

At last year's state meet, Hoffman finished 28th out of 32 divers with 113.80 points. This year, Hoffman is hoping to finish in the top 20 after the first five dives to advance to the next round.

"I'm hoping to make the first cut," said Hoffman. "It would be nice to make the second cut and finish in the top 10."

200 relay fulfills goal

Taking first during preliminaries of the 200 freestyle relay provided the push that relay team needed to advance to state.

Rossman, Pederson, Andersen and Creager entered the section meet with the No. 3 seed time of 1:48.06. Splits of 26.58 by Rossman, 26.92 by Pederson, 26.41 by Andersen and 26.29 by Creager led to a winning time of 1:46.20 during preliminaries. Bemidji was second in 1:46.35 and Fergus Falls was third in 1:46.38. Having the fastest preliminary time provided all the confidence the four Park Rapids swimmers needed to get to state.

"I thought it was going to be super close," said Rossman. "We really wanted to go to state. It came down to who wanted it more."

"I knew our chances were pretty good," said Pederson. "I was a little nervous. I didn't want to let my teammates down."

"It was a big goal of mine to get to state. Our relay really wanted to go and we were pretty positive that we could do it," said Andersen. "We were a lot more confident after taking first. We all thought that we could go faster."

"We were pretty confident we'd get at least second or make the cut time," said Creager. "Taking first boosted our confidence a lot. We knew it would be neck-and-neck between us and Bemidji. We knew we had a good chance to take first or second."

In the finals, Bemidji dropped to a 1:43.54 to claim the section title while the Panthers claimed the other state berth with a runner-up 1:44.21. Rossman led off with a 26.10, Pederson clocked a 26.48, Andersen followed in 26.31 and Creager finished with a 25.32.

That time had the Panthers seeded No. 25 out of 26 qualifiers and within the school record of 1:42.06 set in 2001 by Caroline Schik, Emma Helfrich, Nikki Breitbach and Tavia Schumacher.

"I hope we all have good times and we can make it to the second day," said Rossman.

"I just want to have fun and beat our time," said Pederson. "It would be pretty sweet to knock off the record. We consistently dropped time, so I think it's doable."

"We're all so excited to go there," said Andersen. "I just want us to swim as fast as we can and drop a little more time."

"My goal is to get the record," said Creager. "If we all swim like we can, I think we can get pretty close to the record."

Erickson returns in 100 backstroke

It was no surprise that Erickson qualified for state in the 100 backstroke.

Fergus Falls' Abby Fisher and Erickson were the heavy favorites to claim the two state berths in that event.

Neither disappointed.

Erickson, who was seeded second with a 1:04.35, took first during preliminaries with a 1:02.78 while Fisher was second in 1:04.11 after having the top seed time of 1:02.81.

Fisher backed up her top seed by winning the section title in 1:00.53 while Erickson followed in 1:01.09. Detroit Lakes' Grace Livermore was a distant third in 1:06.25.

"I felt confident that I'd go to state," said Erickson. "It would have been nice to beat Abby, but my main goal was to get a good time."

This will be Erickson's fourth trip to state in the 100 backstroke. Erickson finished 21st in 1:04.81 in 2009 and moved up 18th place with a 1:03.35 in 2010 before placing 13th last year in 1:01.25. Erickson, who is seeded No. 12 out of 27 qualifiers, is looking to move up again and break Brandi Werner's school record of 1:00.87 set in 2005.

"I want to break the school record. I was so close at sections," said Erickson, who also placed 13th in the 500 freestyle at last year's state meet. "I want to race the second day. Hopefully I can make it in the top 8."

Williams fulfills goal

After contending for a state berth in the 100 breaststroke the last three years, Williams was determined to qualify for state in an individual event for the first time this season.

Williams knew that task was going to be tough since Staples-Motley's Jaelin Beachy was the heavy favorite to win the section title. That left the other state berth up for grabs.

Entering the section meet, Williams was seeded fifth with a 1:15.63. However, Williams dropped that time to a 1:11.38 to finish second behind Beachy's 1:09.00 during preliminaries. That gave Williams a huge boost of confidence.

"I thought I would have to get the cut time to make it to state," said Williams. "After the first day, I knew the girls were going be gunning for me. I just wanted to keep my focus and keep the second spot."

As expected, Beachy won the section title with a 1:06.58 while Williams followed in 1:10.83. Andersen and Bemidji's Danielle Hoven tied for third at 1:11.39.

"I was more worried about this race than any other. I knew Kayla and Hoven were right behind me, but I knew if I could stay close to Beachy, I could get second or the cut time," said Williams, who finished fifth in this event in 2009 and last year and fourth in 2010. "I'm so excited I got second. I finally made it."

Out of 20 state qualifiers, Williams entered as the No. 18 seed. Finishing at that spot or a little higher would be a nice way for Williams to cap off her senior season.

"It's going to be a fast meet," said Williams. "I definitely want to go down there and beat at least two girls and move up in the rankings."

400 relay caps off meet

The three seniors were determined to cap off their final section meet with a section title and trip to state in their final section race.

The 400 freestyle relay delivered with an impressive performance.

Park Rapids entered with a seed time of 3:57.51 for the No. 2 spot behind Bemidji. During preliminaries, the Panthers sent a message by clocking a winning time of 3:53.84. Bemidji was second in 3:57.18.

"Going in I thought it would be between us and Bemidji," said Creager. "I knew we could do it."

"I knew we had a good chance," said Rossman. "After Friday I thought we had a really good chance to get first."

"I had total trust in all the girls," said Williams. "I really wanted to get to state in this relay."

"We felt really confident," said Erickson. "We were pretty jacked up and ready to go."

Those four dominated the final race as Creager led off with a 56.80, Rossman followed with a 56.98, Williams clocked a 57.47 and Erickson finished in 55.22 for a 3:46.47. Bemidji was a distant second in 3:52.88.

"I still had an adrenaline rush from the 100 breaststroke," said Williams. "When I got in the water, I knew we had it. Going to state in this relay with three seniors is icing on the cake."

"It was fun to get first," said Erickson. "It was a great way to finish the meet and end my senior season."

Erickson and Creager swam in this relay that took 18th in 3:51.10 in 2010 and was 12th in 3:46.01 last year. Those two joined Schirmers and Zinke to set the school record of 3:42.96 last season.

The Panthers, who are looking to break that record at state, entered this year's state meet seeded No. 21 out of 24 teams.

"I hope we improve our time at state," said Creager. "I'm shooting for top 16 and making it to the second day."

"I'm just happy making it back to state," said Rossman. "I hope we drop time and get to the second day."

"Personally I want to drop my split time to a 56," said Williams. "I hope we make it to the second day. It's going to be a blast."

"I hope we get in the top 16 and make it to the second day," said Erickson. "Getting in the top 8 would be awesome."

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