Panthers lived up to expectations
Entering last Saturday's Section 8A track and field meet, Park Rapids' Lydia Lutz, Lora Remus, Summer Ellefson, Shelby Pierce, Grace Bateman, Mandy Schirmers and Herman Stieng were expected to qualify for the state Class A meet.
Lutz (a junior), Remus (a sophomore), Ellefson (a junior) and Pierce (a junior) were the top seed in the 4 x 800-meter relay. Ellefson was seeded first in the 400 dash while Bateman (a sophomore) and Pierce were the No. 2 seed in the 300 hurdles and 800 run. Pierce, Schirmers (a junior), Bateman and Ellefson were the top seed in the 4 x 400 relay. Stieng entered as the No. 2 seed in the 400 dash.
All seven lived up to expectations by qualifying for state.
Lutz, Remus, Ellefson and Pierce finished second behind East Grand Forks' winning time of 9:38.28 in the 4 x 800 relay, but their time of 9:42.81 was well below the state-qualifying time of 9:47.04.
Ellefson won the 400 dash in 1:00.40, Bateman won the 300 hurdles in 47.76 and Pierce took second in the 800 run in 2:25.17 to qualify for state.
The 4 x 400 relay team of Pierce, Schirmers, Bateman and Ellefson capped off the meet with a winning time of 4:09.92.
In the boys field, Stieng qualified for state with a runner-up time of 52.86 in the 400 dash.
All seven were looking to contend for medals at the state meet, which concludes today (Saturday) at Hamline University in St. Paul.
Panthers return in 4 x 800 relay
Qualifying for state in the 4 x 800 relay has become a tradition for the Panthers.
Lutz was a member of this relay that placed 10th with a 9:55.64 at the 2008 state meet and fifth with a 9:59.01 in 2009.
Last year, Lutz, Ellefson and Pierce joined Victoria Lutz to earn runner-up honors at state with a 9:29.44, which set a school record.
Entering this year's section meet, Lutz, Ellefson and Pierce were looking to repeat as section champs and keep the streak of sending the 4 x 800 relay team to state intact.
The Panthers entered with the fastest time of 9:51.36. East Grand Forks was second at 10:13.79.
Even though the Panthers didn't repeat as section champs, they did accomplish their main goal of returning to state.
Lutz led off with a split of 2:24, Remus followed with a split of 2:27, and Ellefson and Pierce finished with splits at 2:26 to easily meet the state-qualifying standard.
"I wanted to make it to state in the 4 x 8. I knew East Grand Forks would be our biggest competition. We were hoping to beat them, but we were going for (the state-qualifying) time," said Remus, who competed at the North Dakota state meet for Fargo Oak Grove in the 3,200 run and 4 x 800 relay as a seventh grader and in the 1,600 run as an eighth grader. "We ran our best time of the year and we got the (state-qualifying) time. That's all that matters."
"I was nervous because I knew East Grand Forks was out to get us this year," said Pierce. "I wanted to get first, but I thought if we didn't get first, we'd get the qualifying time."
"I was 100 percent sure that we'd make it. We were already close to the qualifying time, so I knew even if we didn't take first, we'd make the qualifying time," said Ellefson. "East Grand Forks is our rival and we wanted to beat them. It didn't matter that we didn't take first as long as we made it."
"I knew if we didn't win it that we'd at least make qualifying time," said Lutz, who qualified for state for the fifth year in a row. "We'll get them (East Grand Forks) at state."
The 4 x 800 relay team entered state seeded fourth behind defending champion Kasson-Mantorville (9:33.11), Dover-Eyota (9:33.72) and East Grand Forks. Ten relay teams qualified for state.
"I want to beat East Grand Forks," said Lutz. "We're ranked fourth, so I hope we finish in the top four."
"We took second last year, so I want to get in the top two," said Pierce.
"I want to beat East Grand Forks and I'd like us to be close to where we were last year," said Ellefson.
Ellefson earns first individual berth
At last year's section meet, Ellefson finished third in the 400 dash behind Warroad's Deidre Hahn and Park Christian's Courtney Nepstad.
At this year's section meet, Hahn and Nepstad decided to run in the 100 and 200 dashes with only Nepstad returning in the 400.
It didn't matter who was in the 400 field as Ellefson, who entered with the fastest time of 1:00.47, made sure she would qualify for state this year by winning the title in 1:00.40. Nepstad was second in 1:00.76.
"I went in ranked No. 1. I was pretty confident, but I was also really nervous," said Ellefson. "At the 200 mark, I wasn't going my hardest and I was in front, so I thought I had a good chance."
Entering state, Ellefson was seeded 12th out of 16 qualifiers. Malayshia George of Breck had the fastest qualifying time of 57.36. Seven girls advanced to state with times under a minute.
"I'd like to make it to the finals," said Ellefson. "My other main goal is to break a minute."
Bateman returns in 300 hurdles
As an eighth grader, Bateman qualified for her first state meet in the 300 hurdles. Bateman ended up placing 16th in her state debut with a time of 48.51.
Last year, Bateman clocked her best time of the season at the section meet, but ended up placing fourth in the 300 hurdles. Not making it to state last year provided plenty of motivation for Bateman this year.
Bateman entered the section meet as the No. 2 seed with a 48.48 behind Hawley/Ulen-Hitterdal's Laure Olson, who had the top time of 47.97 and was the defending section champion.
Once again, Bateman clocked her best time of the season. Only this time, Bateman's personal best resulted in a section title and another trip to state. Olson finished second in 48.41.
"Not making it to state last year definitely fueled the fire for me this year," said Bateman. "I knew my chances were really good. I just did what I did all season and it turned out good."
Bateman was seeded 14th out of the 18 state qualifiers entering the state preliminaries. Pipestone's Bree Woelber and St. Peter's Danielle Larson had the fastest qualifying times of 45.32.
"I'd like to make the finals," said Bateman. "I'm hoping for a personal record."
Pierce earns first individual berth
Pierce also contended for her first individual trip to state last year by placing third in the 800.
Victoria Lutz ended up winning the section title with East Grand Forks' Jaclyn Scanlan finishing second.
Entering this year's section meet, Pierce knew Scanlan would be her toughest competition. Scanlan had the best time of 2:27.24 while Pierce entered with a 2:27.71.
That prediction turned out to be right as Scanlan won the section title in 2:23.75. Pierce earned the other state berth while Roseau's Janae Pahlen took third in 2:26.54.
"I had a good idea it would be between Jaclyn and me," said Pierce. "I decided to take the first lap easy. There were four girls in front of me after the first lap, but I passed three of them on the second lap. I wanted to get first, but I knew second was OK."
Pierce entered state seeded 16th out of 17 qualifiers. Nicollet's Tara Roelofs had the fastest qualifying time of 2:18.38.
"I want to qualify for the finals," said Pierce.
Panthers qualify in 4 x 400 relay
After missing a state berth with a runner-up finish in the 4 x 400 relay last season, Ellefson, Schirmers and Pierce were determined to qualify for state in that relay this year.
That relay team entered the section meet with the best time of 4:12.38. Instead of Bateman, Lutz was the fourth member of that relay at the subsection meet. East Grand Forks was seeded second with a 4:14.10.
Pierce led off with a split under 1:04, Schirmers followed in under 1:05, and Bateman and Ellefson finished up with splits under 1:01 as the Panthers claimed the section title. Walker-Hackensack-Akeley finished second in 4:13.25 while East Grand Forks was third in 4:14.40.
The only other time this relay ran together was at the state Class A True Team meet. That relay clocked a 4:15.11.
"I knew we were ranked No. 1, but I didn't know what the other teams were bringing," said Pierce. "I was a little nervous."
"I knew we had to work hard, but I thought we had a really good chance going in," said Schirmers. "We had the fastest time going in and we wanted to keep it."
"This was only the second time I've run it," said Bateman. "I was a little nervous, but I was also excited. I knew we had a good shot to get first. It's fun running on a winning team."
"We were ranked No. 1, but I was a little nervous because I had never anchored this relay before," said Ellefson. "When Grace gave me a good lead, I was pretty sure we'd get it."
With only nine relay teams qualifying, the Panthers were guaranteed placing. Breck entered with the fastest time of 4:02.97 while the Panthers were seeded seventh.
"I think we can run faster," said Pierce. "I don't want to get last."
"We're going to get a medal no matter what," said Schirmers. "We're seeded seventh. I want us to stay there or move up."
"The competition is going to be close," said Bateman. "Hopefully we'll run our best time."
"No matter what, we're going to place," said Ellefson. "If we run our best time, I'll be happy."
Stieng sprints to first state meet
Stieng's first experience running track resulted in his first trip to the state meet.
The foreign exchange student from Norway decided to give track a try. That decision paid off by giving the Park Rapids boys track team its first state competitor since 2002.
"In Norway I played soccer all year. I was always good at running, but I had never run track before," said Stieng. "I like it. It's a cool sport."
Stieng entered the section meet as the No. 2 seed in the 400 with a 51.83. Roseau's Wade Kerner entered as the top seed with a 51.00.
Kerner ended up winning the section title in 50.31 while Stieng followed in 52.10. Park Rapids' Austin Carlson was third in 52.86.
"I was seeded second, but I was really nervous," said Stieng. "When I saw the seeds, I thought I had a chance, but all the times were so close."
Entering the state preliminaries, Stieng was seeded 14th out of 16 qualifiers. St. Paul Humbolt's Calvin Clark had the fastest time of 49.35.
"I hope to make the finals. I'm going to have to drop at least a second to do that," said Stieng. "I've been dropping time the last month, so it's possible. It's going to be exciting."