Panthers looking to qualify both boys, girls teams for state meet
Kerry Johnson is expecting another successful season from the Park Rapids boys and girls cross-country teams.
Last year, the girls finished second at the Section 8A meet to earn a return trip to the state Class A meet. The Panthers ended the season by placing 15th at the state meet.
The boys enjoyed their best season in more than a decade by placing fourth at the section meet. That was the Panthers' best showing at the section meet since placing fourth in 1999.
Johnson is looking for the Panthers to duplicate or improve on those efforts this fall.
"I am fired up for an exciting season," said Johnson. "We are unproven until we start racing. I want the kids to be able to do what they're capable of doing each and every meet."
Girls seek trip to state
With a solid nucleus of runners returning, the Panthers have the potential to qualify for state for the third year in a row.
Returning to lead the Panthers are seniors Lydia Lutz and Shelby Pierce; juniors Kaylee Hilmanowski, Morgan Olson and Lora Remus; and sophomore Alex Pederson.
That group led the Panthers to three titles, a runner-up showing at the Mid-State Conference meet and a return trip to state last fall. Park Rapids tallied 102 points at the section meet to trail Perham's 84 points and compiled 334 points at state. Adrian won the state title with 89 points.
The Panthers enter this season ranked No. 12 in the pre-season state Class A poll. Perham is ranked No. 9.
Lutz will be seeking to end her senior season by earning her fifth consecutive trip to state. Lutz was the Panthers' No. 1 runner all season, finishing in the top eight spots in all 10 meets before placing 26th at state. Lutz led the field in three meets, including at the conference meet for the second year in a row to earn Mid-State honors for the fourth straight year. Lutz finished second at the section meet for the third straight year and placed 20th in 2009, 34th in 2008 and 30th in 2007 at state.
Pederson was the Panthers' No. 2 runner last season, but will miss part of the season after having knee surgery over the summer. Pederson earned all-conference honors by placing seventh at the Mid-State meet and ended the season by placing 15th at the section meet and 108th in her state debut.
Pierce, Hilmanowski, Olson and Remus filled the No. 3-6 spots last year.
Pierce finished 22nd at the conference meet as the Panthers' No. 5 runner before claiming the No. 3 spot by placing 27th at the section meet and 121st at the state meet in her first season of cross country.
Hilmanowski ended the season as the Panthers' No. 4 runner by placing 29th at the section meet and 126th at the state meet. In 2009, Hilmanowski was the Panthers' No. 5 runner by placing 30th at the section meet and No. 4 runner by placing 96th at state.
Olson received all-conference honorable mention honors by placing 14th at the Mid-State meet as the Panthers' No. 3 runner and was the No. 5 runner by placing 39th at the section meet and 134th at state. In 2009, Olson finished 27th at the section meet as the team's No. 4 runner and 109th at state as the team's No. 5 runner.
Remus was the Panthers' No. 4 runner at the conference meet by placing 17th and held the team's No. 6 spot by placing 41st at the section meet and 139th in her first Minnesota state meet. Remus competed in two state meets in North Dakota before moving to Park Rapids.
Looking to fill the spot vacated by Tiffany Deitchler (who missed most of her senior season with an injury before returning to place 151st at the state meet) will be senior Summer Ellefson. Ellefson sat out last season, but was the Panthers' No. 3 runner at the section meet by placing 17th and at the state meet by placing 75th in 2009.
Also looking to compete for a varsity spot will be eighth graders Maya Johnson, Abby Mueller and Megan Olson.
Perham, which returns its top six runners, is favored to repeat as section champs. Warroad, which finished third at the section meet with 113 points, returns five runners and could battle the Panthers for the other state berth. However, Johnson is confident her team has the talent to compete at state for the third straight year.
"I think the expectations for the girls are high. I don't need to talk about keeping a strong work ethic with these girls. They work hard at every practice. They are so driven," said Johnson. "The key is staying healthy. We can't afford injuries. We need everyone to be ready to go. The girls have set their goals to try to get faster and more competitive at each meet. They also really want to get back to state. I am very excited and am looking forward to very good things."
Boys look to move up
The Park Rapids boys cross-country team took major strides forward last season by winning one title, placing third at the conference meet and moving up to fourth place at the section meet.
Johnson feels her team has the potential to improve on that success this fall.
The Panthers led the field at the Pelican Rapids Invitational to claim first at a meet for the first time since 2000. The Panthers also placed third at the Mid-State Conference meet for their best showing at that meet since taking third in 2000. The Panthers capped the season by tallying 161 points to trail only Perham (26), Thief River Falls (74) and Staples-Motley (155) at the section meet.
Despite graduating four runners, Perham enters the season rated No. 4 in the pre-season state Class A poll. Thief River Falls has moved to Section 8AA this season.
Returning to lead the Panthers this fall are the four runners who competed in last year's section meet: juniors Tanner Otterness and Jake Waggoner, sophomore Bailey Mueller and freshman Isaac Overmyer.
Overmyer earned all-conference honors by placing fifth at the Mid-State meet as the Panthers' No. 2 runner and ended the season by leading the team at the section meet by placing 16th in his section debut.
Otterness was the Panthers' No. 4 runner by placing 23rd at the conference meet and 46th at the section meet in his first varsity season.
Waggoner was the team's No. 6 runner at the conference meet by placing 31st and was the Panthers' No. 5 runner at the section meet by placing 49th.
Mueller competed in cross country for the first time and was the Panthers' No. 3 runner at the conference meet by placing 19th before ending the season by placing 52nd at the section meet as the team's No. 6 runner.
Also returning from last season's varsity are senior Ryan McBrady and juniors Jacob Hays, Nate Carlson and Ben Kading. Competing for varsity spots will be junior Nick Schulz; sophomores Cody Brumbaugh, Austin Carlson, Brad Eischens, Aaron Holk and Nathaniel Rairdon; freshmen Adam Mackley and Matt Konshok; eighth graders Cole Coborn and Jacob Bridgman; and seventh grader Zach Nelson.
Those runners will be looking to replace last year's senior class of Taylor Kimball, Zac Haugland, Matt Sullivan, Travis Deitchler and Kevin Merfeld. Kimball was the Panthers' No. 1 runner most of the season, placing fourth at the Mid-State meet to earn all-conference honors and 24th at the section meet. Haugland was the Panthers' No. 3 runner at the section meet by placing 45th while Sullivan rounded out the section team by placing 68th.
Perham and Staples-Motley (which returns its entire team) will be the favorites to claim the two state berths. However, Johnson feels her team has the potential to challenge those teams and make a run at qualifying for state.
"The boys team should be really interesting. We have some strong returning runners and some new runners who should step in and contribute. The competition to make the varsity squad will push these guys. I need to see some of these new runners in a meet to see how they handle the race situation," said Johnson. "The guys also need to stay healthy. They need to take care of themselves. They are a very driven group as well, so I just need to continue to push them so they continue to improve. Another key will be for the newer runners to just take each meet as a learning situation and build. I am very excited about their season. By the time sections roll around, I am hoping for a tough group of seven guys who can take Park Rapids to the next level."