Panthers look to defend titles
Corey Hill had plenty of reasons to celebrate last season after the Park Rapids girls track and field team capped a historic season by winning the Section 6A True Team, Subsection 8-29A and Section 8A titles.
The Panthers' head coach is hoping his team will have even more reasons to celebrate this spring.
Even though the Panthers graduated six key performers, Hill is counting on the returning talent to produce another successful season.
In the eight regular-season meets last season, the Panthers won five titles and finished second the other three times.
The Panthers won the Section 6A True Team title and finished fifth at the state Class A True Team meet. That was only the Panthers' third trip to the state True Team meet and the first since winning back-to-back Section 8AA True Team titles in 1994 and 1995. Park Rapids finished seventh in 1994 and sixth in 1995 at the state meet.
After earning runner-up honors at the Mid-State Conference meet, the Panthers captured their fifth consecutive Subsection 8-29A title before winning the Section 8A title for the first time since claiming back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995.
The Panthers ended last season by placing in three events and scoring 17 points for 16th place at the state Class A meet. Four of those athletes - juniors Lydia Lutz, Summer Ellefson and Shelby Pierce and freshman Mady Vaudrin - return to lead the Panthers this spring.
Lutz, Ellefson and Pierce joined Victoria Lutz on the 4 x 800-meter relay team that took runner-up honors at state with a school-record time of 9:29.44. Victoria Lutz finished sixth in the 800 run and Lydia Lutz finished seventh in the 1,600 run to round out the points at state. Vaudrin finished 21st in the 100 dash.
The key to the Panthers' success last season was having a combination of talented athletes and plenty of depth. Hill is counting on that same combination to spark another historic season.
In addition to the four state qualifiers, the Panthers return plenty of experience with nine other athletes who competed at last year's section meet. That group features junior Mandy Schirmers; sophomores Grace Bateman, Katherine Erickson, Kaylee Hilmanowski and Morgan Olson; and freshmen Samantha Harshman, Ellen Hoffman, Justine Rittgers and Charity Ridlon.
Looking to fill in spots after scoring points on the varsity last season are juniors Danielle Hill and Jenna Polley; sophomores Jessi Andersen, Tori Lauderbaugh and Jill Simpson; freshman Kayla Johnk; and eighth graders Megan Grimes, Hannah Gorder and Bria Wolff.
That group will have to replace last year's senior crew of Victoria Lutz, Heather Goodwater (who was the subsection champion in the 100 hurdles), Nikki Knott (who was the subsection champion in the shot put and discus), Kyja Penning (who placed at the subsection meet in the 200, 4 x 100 relay, 4 x 200 relay and pole vault), Shannon Taylor (who qualified for the section meet in the 100, 4 x 100 relay and 4 x 200 relay) and Hannah Wolff (who placed in the 4 x 200, 4 x 400 and high jump at the subsection meet).
With no seniors on this year's roster, the Panthers will be counting on the juniors for leadership.
Lutz and Pierce ran on the Mid-State champion 4 x 800 relay team while Schirmers and Ellefson ran on the conference champion 4 x 400 relay unit. At the subsection meet, Lutz and Pierce ran on the winning 4 x 800 relay team while Lutz joined Ellefson and Schirmers on the runner-up 4 x 400 relay unit. Vaudrin and Bateman were members of the runner-up 4 x 100 relay team while Vaudrin ran on the third-place 4 x 200 relay team.
At the section meet, the 4 x 800 relay team took first, the 4 x 400 relay team took second, and the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 relay teams finished fourth. Pierce joined Lutz, Ellefson and Schirmers on the 4 x 400 relay team at the section meet.
Lutz won titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 at the Section 6A True Team and state Class A True Team meets and was the Mid-State Conference champion in the 3,200 run. Lutz was also the subsection and section champion in the 1,600 run.
Ellefson won the conference and subsection titles in the 400 run and also just missed a state berth by placing third in that race at the section meet.
Pierce was the conference and subsection runner-up in the 800 run and just missed a state berth by placing third in that event at the section meet.
Vaudrin won the subsection title in the 100 dash before qualifying for state with a runner-up finish at the section meet in that race.
Bateman earned all-conference honors by winning the 300 hurdles at the Mid-State meet and was the subsection champion in that race while placing third in the pole vault. Bateman took fourth in the 300 hurdles and seventh in the pole vault at the section meet.
Hoffman was the conference champion in the pole vault before claiming runner-up honors in the pole vault and placing fifth in the 400 at the subsection meet. Hoffman tied for fourth place in the pole vault at the section meet.
Olson took first in the 3,200 run at the subsection meet and finished ninth at the section meet.
Adding runner-up finishes at the subsection meet were Rittgers in the 300 hurdles and Hilmanowski in the 3,200 run. Hilmanowski placed seventh and Rittgers finished 11th at the section meet.
Also advancing to the section meet were Erickson, Harshman and Ridlon. Erickson placed fourth at the subsection meet and 12th at the section meet in the 1,600 run, Harshman placed fourth at the subsection meet and 15th at the section meet in the shot put, and Ridlon took fifth at the subsection meet and 15th at the section meet in the 3,200 run.
The other subsection competitors were Polley in the 100 (sixth) and 200 (seventh), Hill in the long jump (eighth), Grimes in the high jump (seventh), Harshman in the discus (sixth), Lauderbaugh in the high jump (sixth) and Simpson in the 1,600 run (10th).
Also being counted on to score points this season are junior Emily Klingenberg (sprints, jumping events) and sophomores Lora Remus (distance events) Jordan Bynum (sprints) and Lydia Schaum.
Rounding out the varsity roster are seventh graders Kayla Andersen, Makayla Edwards, Emma Ellefson, Sarah Harshman, Paige Hill, Bailee Hofford, Maya Johnson, Heidi Lageson, Abby Mueller, Tea Nyland, Megan Olson, Tayah Otterness and Laura Walker.