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Leading the Park Rapids boys cross-country team to a runner-up finish at the Section 8A meet and a trip to the state Class A meet were (front from left) Isaac Overmyer, Austin Carlson, Brad Eischens, Nathanael Rairdon; (back) Tanner Otterness, Tanner Eischens, Bailey Mueller, Zach Jewison, Jake Waggoner, head coach Kerry Johnson.

Panthers fulfill mission with state bid

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Panthers fulfill mission with state bid
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Isaac Overmyer and the rest of the Park Rapids boys cross-country team knew what to expect while Tayah Otterness wasn't sure what to expect at last Friday's Section 8A meet at Bagley.

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Despite the different mindsets, the end results were the same as Overmyer, Otterness and the boys team earned trips to the state Class A meet.

Led by Overmyer's fourth-place finish, the Panthers finished second as a team to qualify for the state meet for the first time since 1997.

In her first season of running cross country, Otterness earned an individual berth to the state meet by placing 12th overall. That finish will give Park Rapids a runner at the state girls meet for the seventh year in a row.

The state meet will be held today (Saturday) at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

Team fulfills main goal

Entering the season, the members of the Park Rapids boys cross-country team set a goal of qualifying for state.

The Panthers placed fourth at last year's section meet behind Perham, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton and Staples-Motley. With D-G-F and Staples-Motley graduating their top runners, the Panthers were confident they could fulfill their quest of advancing to state.

Park Rapids returned a veteran lineup with seniors Jake Waggoner and Tanner Otterness; juniors Bailey Mueller and Brad Eischens; and Overmyer back from last year's section team. Juniors Austin Carlson, who served as an alternate last year, and Zach Jewison, who was out for cross country for the first time, rounded out this year's section team.

Perham, the defending state Class A runner-up and the top-rated team in the state, had a lock on repeating as section champs. That left Park Rapids and Roseau battling for second place and a trip to state.

Roseau finished ahead of the Panthers at the Bagley/Fosston Invitational by 6 points earlier in the season, but Park Rapids finished 54 points ahead of the Rams at Headwaters Country Club in the regular-season finale. That showing gave the Panthers all the confidence they needed to get to state.

"I felt really good about our chances," said Waggoner. "We knew we could beat Roseau. We would all have to run bad and they would all have to run their best to beat us. I was really confident we'd go to state."

"I knew we had a good shot this year. Last year we were not quite there. That gave us motivation to work hard to get it this year," said Otterness. "I didn't want to go in overconfident, but I knew we had a good shot. I knew we'd end up second."

"I was really confident after we beat them by a lot at our home meet," said Overmyer. "Roseau would have to run really good and we'd have to run really bad for them to beat us."

"I thought we had a good chance going into the season. Dilworth and Staples graduated a lot of guys and we had almost everybody back. Plus Zach was a key addition," said Carlson. "I knew as the season progressed, we'd get faster. After our home meet, I knew the chances were high that we'd beat them."

The strategy was obvious going into the section meet: go after the green jerseys and pass every Roseau runner in front of you. The Panthers executed that strategy to perfection.

Overmyer led the way by placing fourth in 16:22 on the 5,000-meter course while Roseau's Tyler Erickson (13th in 17:15) and Weston Nelson (14th in 17:16) followed.

Waggoner and Jewison finished ahead of Roseau's No. 3 runner as Waggoner placed 19th in 17:40 and Jewison was 21st in 17:59. Roseau's Kendal Watson was 23rd in 18:07.

When Park Rapids' final four runners all finished in a pack, the state trip was guaranteed. Otterness was 29th in 18:30, Mueller finished 30th in 18:40, Carlson was 32nd in 18:50 and Eischens finished 34th in 18:51. Roseau's Caleb Mellstrom was 39th in 19:08 and Scott Nelson finished 40th in 19:10 to complete the Rams' team score.

Perham ran away with the section title with 17 points while the Panthers were second with 99 points. Roseau took third with 124 points.

"My strategy was to not start out too fast and run my race," said Waggoner. "It was really important to help the team get down there this year. I've been working toward this since June. I ran like crazy this summer and it paid off."

"Our strategy was to keep our goal in mind, run our race and go get green. If you saw a Roseau guy in front of you, go get him," said Otterness. "It was really important to get to state. That was our goal going into the summer and fall."

"It was really important to help the team get to state," said Overmyer. "All I thought about was how much fun it would be if the whole team made it."

"I didn't want to let a Roseau guy get past me. My goal was to stay in sight of Jake and if I saw green, I was going to pass them," said Jewison. "I was really confident we'd make it. When I saw all our seven guys in before Roseau's fourth guy, I knew we had it. When I realized we made state, I was pumped."

"I just wanted to keep it simple and just run and leave it all out there. I wanted to make sure there was no Roseau runners to catch," said Mueller. "When I reached the finish line and didn't see any Roseau jerseys there, I knew we did it. It's nice to finally make it. Now I have a second chance to make it next year."

"With about a mile left, I passed two Roseau kids and I saw Bailey and Brad ahead of me and two Roseau kids were ahead of them," said Carlson. "When we passed them, I knew we had it locked."

"I knew if I beat Roseau's No. 4 runner, we'd make it for sure," said Eischens. "My strategy was to make sure there were more of my teammates in front of me than Roseau runners in front of me."

During the regular season, Park Rapids was rated No. 11 in the state. The Panthers, who were not listed among the top 14 teams in the latest state poll, are looking to run another solid race at state.

"Our goal going into the season was to make it to state so I'm happy just to get down there," said Waggoner. "I just want to beat another team. Finishing in the top 12 is not unrealistic. To get ranked again would be sweet."

"I just want to go down there and give our best effort and see what happens," said Otterness.

"Making it to state was our goal for this year," said Overmyer. "I just don't want us to get last."

"There are a lot of good teams down there," said Jewison. "I hope we don't get last."

"It'd be nice to go there and not be embarrassed," said Mueller. "Hopefully we can hold our own and beat a couple teams."

"Our main goal was just to get to state," said Carlson. "If we run the way we're capable of running, we can get in the top 12. The main thing is to enjoy the experience and compete as hard as we can."

"The main thing is we made it there," said Eischens. "I hope to go down there and run my personal best."

Overmyer returns to state

At last year's state meet, Overmyer just missed earning all-state honors by finishing in 26th place.

This year, Overmyer is determined to move up and contend for a top-10 finish.

Based on his finishes during the regular season, Overmyer was confident of claiming another individual trip to the state meet.

Overmyer, who qualified for state last year by placing fifth at the section meet, entered this year's section meet as a heavy favorite to return to state after placing in the top-4 at every meet during the regular season.

Overmyer led the field at Pelican Rapids and repeated as the Mid-State Conference champion and was the runner-up at Wadena, Bagley and Fergus Falls. Perham didn't compete in any of those meets.

Entering the section meet, Overmyer was looking to again finish in the top-4 behind Perham's top runners. That's where the Park Rapids sophomore finished as his time of 16:22 trailed only Perham's Keeghan Hurley (15:57), Brady Speicher (16:12) and Billy Beseman (16:15). Hurley (No. 3), Speicher (No. 7) and Beseman (No. 8) are all rated in the latest state Class A poll.

"I was very confident I'd make it. I was in the top 5 all year, so something bad would have had to happen for me not to make it," said Overmyer. "I started out a little slower and picked up the pace at the mile mark. I knew I'd be in the top 5. I wasn't unhappy with my time, but I've been stuck at 16:20 for the last couple meets. I'm hoping to go faster at state."

Overmyer clocked a 16:56 at last year's state meet. He's looking to vastly improve on that time this year.

"I'm hoping to break 16 minutes and finish in the top 10," said Overmyer. "I just missed all-state last year. My goal is to get all-state this year."

Otterness makes impact

Tayah Otterness wasn't sure what to expect in her first season in cross country.

At the season-opening Moorhead Invitational, Otterness finished 17th as the Panthers' No. 2 runner.

Otterness then led the Panthers at the Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational by placing eighth and followed with a runner-up finish at the Pelican Rapids Invitational. Otterness was the Panthers' top runner the rest of the season.

Finishing second at the Mid-State Conference meet to earn all-conference honors was the boost Otterness needed entering the section meet.

"I didn't think about making it to state until towards the middle of the season," said Otterness. "I thought if I ran a good race I'd have a fairly decent chance."

The Park Rapids freshman covered the 4,000-meter course in 16:17 to finish 12th overall. Roseau's Madeline Huglen (15:34), Lake of the Woods' Victoria Alexander (15:35), Perham's Brynnan Covington (15:50), Trek North's Sadie Hamrin (15:50), Warroad's Lindsay Fast (15:53), Perham's Sydney Karels (15:55), Trek North's Sarah Hamrin (15:58), Bagley/Fosston's Marissa Carlson (16:00), Wadena-Deer Creek's Emma Schmitz (16:08), Warroad's Gretta Brunelle (16:11) and Perham's Ciarrin Covington (16:11) finished ahead of Otterness.

This year, the top eight finishers not on the two state-qualifying teams advanced to state. Perham won the section title with 53 points and Warroad was second with 99 points. When those runners were discarded, Otterness earned the seventh of the eight individual state berths.

"Coach (Kerry) Johnson told me to trust my training and run my race," said Otterness. "It's pretty exciting to go to state in my first year."

Similar to the section meet, Otterness isn't sure what to expect in her state debut.

"I'm not really sure what to expect," said Otterness, whose best time this year is a 15:50. "I'd just like to run my fastest time."

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