Panthers 'heading in right direction'
Todd Fritze saw the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team take a major step forward this season.
The Panthers put together a successful season by going 4-2 in dual meets, placing second at the Section 5A True Team meet, winning the Mid-State Conference championship, placing third at the Section 5A meet, and qualifying four swimmers and placing 28th at the state Class A meet. The Panthers also broke four school records this season.
The highlight of the season was having seniors Zach Eystad, Ben Kading and Jake Waggoner and junior Connor Smythe qualify for the state meet. Smythe earned all-state honors by placing eighth in the 100-yard backstroke while Waggoner placed 13th in the 500 freestyle and 14th in the 200 freestyle at state. Those four missed advancing to the finals in the 200 freestyle relay and Eystad missed a spot in the finals in the 50 freestyle.
“We had a great season,” said Fritze. “We turned a corner. We’re still building to where we want to be, but we’re heading in the right direction.”
In addition to those four, the Panthers had 30 other swimmers and divers score points on varsity this season. That group featured seniors Kyle Merfeld and Fred Stinar; juniors Spencer Adolphson, Kurt Fritze, Niklaus Froelich, Kalvin Hagan and Iain Wallace; sophomores Tyler Breitweser, Matt Konshok, Dillon Schroeder and Andrew Zinke; freshmen Andrew Baldwin, Bobby Bruce, Connor Byer, Marcus McKeever and Hunter Utke; eighth graders Jack Bateman, Sam Eystad, Jack Walsh, Tim Walsh, Sean Vedbraaten and Steven Wattenhofer; and seventh graders Zach Behrens, Matthew Benson, Matthew Bruce, Bradley Graham, Samuel Huot, Casmir Simonson, James Utke and Peter Vanbatavia.
After opening the season by placing third at the six-team Fergus Falls Invitational with 354.50 points (Fergus Falls took first with 463 points), the Panthers lost to Sauk Centre/Melrose 110-76 before defeating Bemidji (103-83) and Perham (93-90) in dual meets.
The Panthers claimed runner-up honors at the five-team Detroit Lakes Invitational with 507 points (trailing Detroit Lakes’ 511 total), lost to Sauk Centre/Melrose (110-74) and defeated Detroit Lakes (104-82) in dual meets, and scored 823 points to finish second at the section True Team meet. Alexandria took first with 1,026 points.
Park Rapids closed the regular season by defeating Thief River Falls 106-63 in a dual meet and capturing the title at the four-team Park Rapids Invitational with 931 points.
Despite winning only three events, the Panthers claimed the Mid-State Conference title with 456 points. Detroit Lakes was second with 439 points. Taking first were Hagan in diving, Waggoner in the 500 freestyle and Smythe in the 100 backstroke.
Earning all-conference honorable mention honors were Smythe, Schroeder, Stinar and Eystad in the 200 medley relay (second); Eystad in the 50 freestyle (second); Smythe, Kading, Waggoner and Eystad in the 200 freestyle relay (second); Hagan in the 100 breaststroke (second); Kading, Fritze, Bobby Bruce and Waggoner in the 400 freestyle relay (second); Waggoner in the 200 freestyle (third), Smythe in the 200 individual medley (third); Schroeder in the 500 freestyle (third); Fritze, Konshok, Stinar and Bobby Bruce in the 200 freestyle relay (third); and Breitweser, Benson, Schroeder and Adolphson in the 400 freestyle relay (third).
At the section meet, the Panthers finished third with 313 points to trail Alexandria (450.50) and Fergus Falls (360). Earning state berths were Waggoner in the 200 freestyle (fourth with a state-qualifying time); Eystad in the 50 freestyle (second); Waggoner in the 500 freestyle (second); Smythe, Kading, Waggoner and Eystad in the 200 freestyle relay (second); and Smythe in the 100 backstroke (second). Waggoner’s 5:02.04 in the 500 freestyle broke Eric Potter’s school record of 5:06.95 set in 1988. The 200 freestyle relay team clocked a 1:32.39 to break the school record of 1:32.80 set by Smythe, Waggoner, Eystad and Sam Goebel last year. Smythe broke his own school record in the 100 backstroke with a 56.21. The old record was a 57.47 last season.
Also placing at the section meet were the 200 medley relay team of Smythe, Schroeder, Stinar and Eystad (fifth); Bobby Bruce (15th) and Benson (16th) in the 200 freestyle; Smythe (fourth), Adolphson (13th), Hunter Utke (14th) and Zinke (16th) in the 200 individual medley; Kading (10th) and Konshok (16th) in the 50 freestyle; Hagan (fourth), Stinar (ninth), Fritze (11th) and Breitweser (12th) in diving; Stinar (13th) and Adolphson (14th) in the 100 butterfly; Eystad (seventh) and Kading (11th) in the 100 freestyle; Schroeder (seventh), Bobby Bruce (11th) and Benson (13th) in the 500 freestyle; Breitweser (eighth) and Konshok (10th) in the 100 backstroke; Hagan (seventh), Schroeder (10th) and Hunter Utke (13th) in the 100 breaststroke; and Kading, Fritze, Adolphson and Waggoner in the 400 freestyle relay (fifth).
Also competing at the section meet were Wallace in the 200 freestyle (19th) and 100 freestyle (20th); Froelich (21st) and Zinke (23rd) in the 100 butterfly; and Merfeld in the 100 freestyle (23rd) and 100 backstroke (17th).
All of those swimmers clocked lifetime bests at the section meet.
“We started off slower than I thought we would, but we finished pretty decent. The younger kids stepped up toward the end of the season,” said Fritze. “We’re doing something right if everyone is swimming lifetime bests at the section meet.”
During preliminaries at the state meet, Waggoner clocked a 1:50.43 in the 200 freestyle to break Jonah Winter’s school record of 1:50.54 set in 2002, Eystad finished 20th in the 50 freestyle, the 200 freestyle relay was disqualified, Waggoner finished 11th in the 500 freestyle and Smythe advanced to the finals in the 100 backstroke by placing eighth.
In the state finals, Waggoner lowered his school record to a 1:50.26 to finish 14th and took 13th in the 500 freestyle with a 5:05.54 while Smythe took eighth in 57.26 in the 100 backstroke to become only the sixth member of the Park Rapids boys swimming team to earn all-state honors. Those three finishes gave the Panthers 18 points to share 28th place. That was Park Rapids’ best finish since scoring 48 points and placing 18th in 2008.
For the season, the Panthers had 15 swimmers and divers score at least 100 points. Waggoner led the way with 370 points with Smythe right behind with 365.50 points. Eystad also scored at least 300 points with 307.50. Scoring at least 200 points were Hagan (284.50), Kading (280.50), Schroeder (234.50), Fritze (224) and Breitweser (203.50). Also reaching triple digits were Bruce (196), Stinar (192), Adolphson (177.50), Hunter Utke (154.50), Konshok (153.50), Merfeld (116.50) and Benson (111.50).
Also scoring points on the varsity were Zinke (83), Wallace (52.50), Graham (45), McKeever (43), Sam Eystad (39.50), Tim Walsh (37.50), Byer (36), Bateman (35.50), Froelich (32), Behrens (28), Jack Walsh (27.50), Simonson (26.50), Vedbraaten (25.50), Huot (14.50), Vanbatavia (7.50), James Utke (6.50), Matthew Bruce (6), Baldwin (5) and Wattenhofer (2.50).
Waggoner and Smythe shared the team MVP honor, Waggoner was named the team’s Most Dedicated/Hardest Worker, Stinar was named Most Spirited, and Benson and Vanbatavia shared the team’s Most Improved honor.
Even though the Panthers graduate five key swimmers, Fritze is looking forward to another successful season next winter.
“I knew we were going to have a good season. The kids gained confidence and saw what they could accomplish if they work hard,” said Fritze. “All the seniors had great seasons. Every kid will need to step up if we’re going to be a good swim team. It’s up to them where they want to start and where they want to end up. We’re still going to be young, but I’m really excited to see what we can accomplish next year.”