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Senior Rachel Thelen, who led the team in point last season, returns to lead a veteran Park Rapids girls track and field teams this spring. (Vance Carlson / Enterprise)

Panthers possess potential in track

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Corey Hill believes talent and depth will make the Park Rapids girls track and field team a major threat this spring.

The Panthers won four invitational titles, captured the Subsection 29-A title and tied for fifth place at the Section 8A meet last season. The nucleus of that team is back as 47 athletes, including 17 who competed at the Section 8A meet, give the Panthers the potential to challenge for the section title and multiple state berths.

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"I'm cautiously optimistic about the season," said Hill. "We have so much talent. We're going to be solid in every event. If we can stay healthy, we'll be right there in every meet."

Leading the Panthers this spring are the 17 section qualifiers from 2008: senior Rachel Thelen; juniors Heather Goodwater, Abby Hanson, Nikki Knott, Victoria Lutz, Shannon Taylor and Hannah Wolff; sophomores Tiffany Deitchler, Chelsea Johnson, Jerika Knott and Sophie Shogren; freshmen Lydia Lutz, Shelby Pierce, Mandy Schirmers and Shannon Thielen; and eighth graders Grace Bateman and Morgan Olson.

Lydia Lutz, Victoria Lutz, Shogren and Wolff competed at the state Class A meet last year. Lydia Lutz finished ninth in the 3,200-meter run and joined the other three on the 4 x 800 relay team that set a school record and placed 10th at the state meet.

In addition to having all four members of the section champion 4 x 800 relay team back, the Panthers return the majority of their members from the other relay teams.

Thelen, Taylor and Jerika Knott ran on the 4 x 100 relay team that finished second at the subsection meet and sixth at the section meet. Thelen, Wolff and Taylor comprised the 4 x 200 relay team that finished third at the subsection meet and seventh at the section meet. Wolff, Schirmers and Shogren ran on the 4 x 400 relay team that finished third at the subsection meet.

Thelen led the team with 253 points last spring. Thelen won the Mid-State Conference title in the pole vault and was runner-up in the 100 dash. At the subsection meet, Thelen took first in the pole vault and 100 dash and placed third in the pole vault and eighth in the 100 at the section meet.

Victoria Lutz was second in points with 249 and was the conference champion in the 800 run and subsection runner-up in the 400. Lutz also placed third in the 3,200 run at the subsection meet.

Lydia Lutz compiled 239 points last season, highlighted by winning the 3,200 title at both the subsection and section meets. Lutz also was second in that event at the conference meet en route to earning her second state trip.

Wolff finished the season with 234 points, placing second in the triple jump and sixth in the 400 at the conference meet and third in the triple jump and seventh in the 200 at the subsection meet. Wolff finished seventh in the triple jump at the section meet.

Shogren tallied 169 points last season, including placing fourth in the 3,200 run at the conference meet and third in the 800 run at the subsection meet.

In addition to running on the two relays, Taylor finished eighth in the 200 dash at the subsection meet and ended the season with 130 points.

Goodwater returns as the Panthers' top hurdler after placing fourth in the conference, first in the subsection and fourth in the section in the 100 hurdles. Goodwater was also the subsection runner-up in the 300 hurdles and tallied 105 points last season.

Nikki Knott returns as the Panthers' top thrower after scoring 40 points in the shot put and discus. Knott finished sixth in both events at the conference meet and placed fourth in the shot put and sixth in the discus at the subsection meet.

Hanson, Deitchler, Johnson and Olson give the Panthers plenty of depth in the distance events. Hanson qualified for the section meet by placing fifth in the 1,600 at the subsection meet. Deitchler scored 51 points last season and was the subsection runner-up in the 1,600 run. Johnson finished the season with 26 points and finished fifth in the 800 at the subsection meet. Olson qualified for the section meet in the 3,200 run after placing fourth at the subsection meet. Olson scored 23 points last season.

Pierce, Schirmers and Jerika Knott provide depth in the sprints. Pierce scored 47 points and qualified for the section meet by placing third in the 400 at the subsection meet. Schirmers scored 19.50 points in the 4 x 400 relay. Knott scored 29 points in the 4 x 100 relay.

Bateman provides depth in the hurdles and pole vault. Bateman scored 35 points last season, highlighted by placing third in the 300 hurdles, sixth in the 100 hurdles and seventh in the pole vault at the subsection meet.

Thielen will also compete in the hurdles after placing fifth in the 100 event at the subsection meet.

Also back after scoring points on the varsity last season are senior Alexa Zunich-Andersen (who finished sixth in the 300 hurdles at the subsection meet); sophomores Katie McBurney and Anna Pugh; freshmen Hannah Fischer and Jenna Polley; and eighth graders Danielle Hill, Tori Lauderbaugh and Lydia Schaum.

Rounding out the varsity roster are sophomores Ashley Dickinson and Eryn Simpson; freshman Savanna Deitchler; eighth graders Jessica Andersen, Emily Creager, Courtney Dickinson, Kaylee Hilmanowski, Jill Simpson and Alayna Young; and seventh graders Crysta Berens, Alyssa Day, Molly Drury, Seri Erickson, Charlotte Gruis, Alyssa Hanson, Ellen Hoffman, Camryn Knott, Christina Mackley, Alex Pederson, Justine Rittgers, Katherine Spears and Mady Vaudrin.

"The competition is good all around us. There won't be an easy meet this year," said Hill, who will be assisted by Leah Hilmanowski. "We have so many kids and so much talent. With our depth, we'll be able to mix things up. We have the potential to win any meet we go to this year. It's going to be an exciting year."

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