Panthers fulfilled goal with state trips
At the beginning of the season, Kerry Johnson thought Park Rapids had the opportunity to send both the boys and girls cross-country teams to the state Class A meet.
Even though the Panthers fell short of achieving that goal, they did qualify one team and an individual for state for the third year in a row.
With a runner-up finish at the Section 8A meet, the Park Rapids girls advanced to the state meet as a team for the fourth time in the last five years. Sophomores Megan Olson, Abby Mueller and Tayah Otterness; freshmen Lydia Kantonen, Ellery Overmyer and Madison Steffel; and seventh grader Kendra Coborn capped off the season by placing 10th at the state meet. Sophomore Maya Johnson and seventh grader Whitney Steffel served as alternates on the section and state teams.
Junior Isaac Overmyer earned his third individual trip to state with a runner-up finish at the section meet and earned all-state honors for the second year in a row by placing fourth at the state meet. The boys, who qualified for state for the first time since 1997 last season, finished fourth at the section meet.
Both teams also excelled in the classroom as the girls earned a State Gold Academic Award with a team GPA of 3.96 while the boys earned a State Gold Academic Award with a team GPA of 3.90.
“I was very happy with the way the season went,” said Park Rapids head coach Kerry Johnson, who was named the Section 8A Coach of the Year. “It was a really fun season.”
Girls cap season with state trip
With five runners returning from last year’s team, Johnson knew the Panthers had a solid nucleus to contend for a state berth.
The contributions of three new runners put the Panthers over the top.
Providing the leadership for the Panthers this fall were the five veterans: Olson, Mueller, Otterness, Johnson and Madison Steffel. Making key contributions in their first seasons were Kantonen, Overmyer, Coborn, Whitney Steffel and junior Nicole Eischens.
That combination led the Panthers to four first-place and three runner-up showings in 10 meets this season.
At the season-opening Staples-Motley Invitational, the Panthers tied Detroit Lakes for first place in this six-team meet with 43 points. Olson was third, Overmyer placed eighth, Kantonen was ninth, Otterness finished 11th and Mueller was 12th in the season debut. Madison Steffel (13th) and Eischens (24th) rounded out the varsity.
Perham, which was rated No. 3 in the final state Class A poll, claimed the title at the 10-team Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational with 24 points while the Panthers followed with 45 points. Olson finished fourth, Kantonen was sixth, Madison Steffel finished 10th, Coborn was 13th and Otterness was 18th in that meet. Overmyer (22nd) and Johnson (37th) completed the Panthers’ varsity lineup.
Park Rapids captured the team title at the 10-team Pelican Rapids Invitational with 30 points as Olson (second), Kantonen (fourth), Overmyer (seventh), Madison Steffel (eighth) and Mueller (10th) all finished in the top 10 while Coborn (13th) and Johnson (26th) followed.
The Panthers followed with another first-place finish by scoring 62 points at the 17-team Bagley/Fosston Invitational. Olson (fifth), Kantonen (seventh), Overmyer (15th), Coborn (21st) and Madison Steffel (22nd) led the way. Mueller finished 28th and Whitney Steffel was 58th at that meet.
Olson (eighth) and Kantonen (ninth) turned in top-10 times as the Panthers finished third at the 15-team Fergus Falls Invitational with 94 points. Sartell took first with 28 points. Overmyer (24th), Coborn (27th) and Madison Steffel (31st) rounded out the Panthers’ team score. Mueller finished 45th and Johnson was 69th at that meet.
Willmar claimed the team title with 16 points while the Panthers finished fifth with 139 points at the 21-team Perham Invitational. Kantonen was ninth, Olson finished 13th, Overmyer was 28th, Madison Steffel finished 47th, Coborn was 52nd, Mueller was 63rd and Otterness took 116th at that meet.
The Panthers won the Mid-State Conference title for the third time in the last five years with 35 points as Kantonen (second), Olson (fourth), Overmyer (fifth) and Coborn (seventh) earned all-conference honors. Madison Steffel finished 17th to round out the Panthers’ team score. Also running for the Panthers were Mueller (22nd) and Otterness (37th).
Perham tallied 43 points to win the title at the 16-team Park Rapids Invitational while the Panthers finished second with 91 points. Kantonen finished third, Overmyer was 14th, Coborn took 21st, Olson was 24th, Madison Steffel finished 33rd, Mueller was 48th and Otterness took 52nd in the regular-season finale.
At the section meet, Perham repeated as champs with 46 points while the Panthers were a close second with 56 points as both teams advanced to state. Kantonen (second), Olson (seventh), Overmyer (10th) and Coborn (15th) earned all-section honors while Madison Steffel finished 26th to round out the team score. Mueller finished 28th and Otterness was 52nd as Park Rapids’ other runners.
The Panthers ended the season with a solid showing at the state meet as Kantonen (43rd), Coborn (85th), Olson (91st), Overmyer (106th), Mueller (161st), Madison Steffel (162nd) and Otterness (171st) combined for 10th place with 244 points. Annandale took first with 85 points while Perham finished third with 138 points.
Kantonen and Olson shared the team’s Most Valuable Runner award while Kantonen received the Hardest Worker honor. Overmyer was voted Most Improved, Coborn was the Rookie of the Year and Madison Steffel received the Team Spirit honor.
“Part of the fun this season was having such a young girls team. It was great to experience meets through the eyes of people who haven’t done many. Each meet was such a learning experience. They were very supportive of each other and yet competitive,” said Johnson. “The girls were a true team. I told them that on any given day, any one of them could place very high. Now that they have worked together this year, I am so excited for them to run this summer and come in and run even better.”
Boys battled tough competition
After qualifying for the state meet for the first time since 1997 last season, Johnson was hoping the Panthers could return to state as a team this fall.
That goal fell short as the Panthers settled for fourth place at the section meet behind the top-rated team in the state and two highly improved teams.
Overmyer, who ended the season rated as the No. 7 runner in the state Class A poll, provided the main highlight to the season by returning to state and earning all-state honors for the second time. In 11 meets, Overmyer took first four times and was the runner-up in four other meets.
Despite not returning to state as a team, the Panthers turned in several solid performances during the season. In addition to Overmyer, the Panthers were led by seniors Zach Jewison, Bailey Mueller, Brad Eischens, Jared Kantonen, Nathanael Rairdon, Austin Carlson and Cody Brumbaugh; juniors Tyler Breitweser, Matt Konshok and Alex Boyd; sophomore Marcus Hoyer; and eighth grader Austin Jerger.
At the season-opening Staples-Motley Invitational, Overmyer (first), Jewison (sixth), Mueller (eighth), Kantonen (21st), Breitweser (22nd), Carlson (29th) and Hoyer (30th) led the Panthers to runner-up honors with 58 points. Detroit Lakes took first in this seven-team meet with 53 points.
Perham, the top-rated Class A team in the state, won the title at the 12-team Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational with 21 points while the Panthers finished fifth with 107 points. Overmyer took second and was followed by Jewison (18th), Mueller (22nd), Breitweser (33rd), Eischens (34th), Kantonen (38th) and Konshok (40th).
Overmyer again took first as the Panthers finished second at the 10-team Pelican Rapids Invitational with 55 points. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton took first with 42 points. Jewison (eighth), Mueller (ninth), Eischens (17th), Breitweser (22nd), Konshok (28th) and Boyd (30th) rounded out the Panthers’ team score.
Led by Overmyer’s winning effort, the Panthers finished third at the 21-team Bagley/Fosston Invitational with 112 points. Roseau led the way with 59 points. Jewison finished eighth, Mueller was 22nd, Eischens took 35th, Breitweser was 51st, Kantonen took 57th and Rairdon was 71st at that meet.
At the Milaca Mega Meet, the Panthers finished 11th out of 27 teams in the Class AA division with 273 points. Minnehaha Academy was first with 54 points. Overmyer was second while Mueller (61st), Jewison (71st), Eischens (76th), Breitweser (92nd), Kantonen (113th) and Konshok (121) followed.
Park Rapids placed 11th at the 14-team Fergus Falls Invitational with 260 points behind Overmyer (fifth), Jewison (64th), Mueller (65th), Breitweser (82nd), Eischens (97th), Kantonen (121st) and Konshok (136th). Perham won that meet with 35 points.
Crosby-Ironton captured the Mid-State Conference title with 44 points while Detroit Lakes (57) and Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (58) followed. C-I ended the season rated No. 7 and LP-GE was rated No. 10 in the state Class A poll. Overmyer won his third consecutive conference title as the Panthers took fifth with 113 points. Breitweser (20th), Mueller (25th), Eischens (38th), Jerger (39th), Kantonen (42nd) and Boyd (44th) rounded out the team score.
In the regular-season finale, Perham tallied 24 points to claim the title at the 17-team Park Rapids Invitational. The Panthers finished seventh with 172 points behind Overmyer (second), Mueller (37th), Breitweser (38th), Eischens (47th), Jerger (48th), Kantonen (49th) and Boyd (52nd).
Overmyer earned a return trip to state by placing second at the section meet. Perham compiled 19 points to win the section title for the eighth year in a row while Roseau claimed the other state berth with 79 points. D-G-F was third with 101 points and the Panthers finished fourth with 129 points. Jewison (27th), Breitweser (28th), Mueller (37th), Eischens (39th), Kantonen (46th) and Rairdon (49th) rounded out Park Rapids’ section team.
At the state meet, Overmyer earned all-state honors by placing fourth. Overmyer finished 26th in his state debut in 2011 and earned all-state honors by placing 10th last year.
“It was great to see Isaac have such an outstanding season. It is always exciting to see runners have great state meets and that is what Isaac did,” said Johnson. “I hope he can finish even better next year. He definitely has the work ethic and talent to make that happen.”
Overmyer was named the Panthers’ Most Valuable Runner while Eischens and Rairdon shared the Hardest Worker award. Breitweser was named Most Improved, Jerger was named Rookie of the Year and Brumbaugh received the Team Spirit award.
“I was bummed that we couldn’t get the guys to state again. Finishing fourth in sections was a good way to finish the season,” said Johnson. “It is such a great group of guys. We will really miss our seniors. I am excited for the returning runners. If we can recruit some younger guys who I know can run, we will build up the boys team again. We just need the guys to get a bunch of summer running in. That makes all the difference.”