Todd Fritze wasn’t sure what to expect from the Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team this season.
Entering the season, Fritze had to fill spots of 14 swimmers from last year’s team who either graduated or decided not to swim this fall.
Thanks to contributions from 26 swimmers and divers who scored points, the Panthers were able to enjoy another successful season by going 6-1 in dual meets, taking third at the Section 8A True Team meet, claiming runner-up honors at the Section 8A meet and qualifying five individuals in four events for the state Class A meet. In addition, the Panthers’ junior varsity went undefeated with a 7-0 record in dual meets to extend their winning streak to 30 meets in a row.
Highlighting the season was having senior Ellen Hoffman, junior Lauren Rossman, and sophomores Paige Fritze, Kayla Andersen and Tea Nyland qualify for the state Class A meet in five events. Unfortunately, the Panthers failed to advance to the finals in any event.
Nyland broke the school record in the 100-yard butterfly at the section meet and placed 18th in that event at state while Andersen finished 17th in the 100 breaststroke, Hoffman placed 28th in diving, and Fritze, Andersen, Nyland and Rossman finished 19th in the 200 medley relay.
Also scoring points for the Panthers this season were seniors Seri Erickson, Taylor Graham and Christina Mackley; sophomores Jada Current, Alyza Edevold, MacKenzie Hensel, Riley Kimball, Isabela Simonson, Lexi Stevenson and Carly Waggoner; freshmen Lizzie Bannerman, Jasmine Cease, Lydia Christensen, Caroline Drury, Sarah Merfeld, Trinah Szafranski and Caitlin Wahl; eighth graders Maija Hovelsrud and Jordan Klemmer; and seventh graders Abby Eystad, Katie Eischens, Sara Simpson and Olivia Ulvin.
After opening the season by placing second at the seven-team Detroit Lakes Pentathlon with 276.50 points to trail Fergus Falls’ 292 points, the Panthers coasted past Warroad (110-57), Thief River Falls (133-49) and Fosston/Bagley (71-20) in dual meets.
The Panthers finished fourth at the seven-team Park Rapids Invitational with 260.50 points (Brainerd took first with 610.50 points) before defeating Perham (112-72), losing to Bemidji (109-77), and defeating Staples-Motley (108-61) and Detroit Lakes (170-144) in dual meets.
At the Section 8A True Team meet, the Panthers finished third with 1,360 points behind Bemidji (1,520.50) and Fergus Falls (1,368).
A team effort led the Panthers to the Mid-State Conference title with 418 points. Detroit Lakes was second with 383 points.
The Panthers had four conference champions in three events. Fritze, Andersen, Nyland and Rossman won the 200 medley relay while Nyland was the conference champ in the 100 butterfly and Andersen claimed the Mid-State title in the 100 breaststroke.
Earning all-conference honorable mention honors were Nyland (second) and Graham (third) in the 200 individual medley; Hoffman in diving (third); Graham (second) and Mackley (third) in the 100 butterfly; Rossman in the 100 freestyle (third); Andersen, Hoffman, Mackley and Edevold in the 200 freestyle relay (second); and Fritze in the 100 backstroke (third).
The Panthers capped off the season by placing second at the section meet with 327 points. Bemidji claimed the section title with 438 points. Every swimmer clocked a season best during preliminaries as the Panthers advanced 14 entrants to the finals and another 10 to the consolation finals.
Leading the Panthers at the section meet was the section champion 200 medley relay team of Fritze, Andersen, Nyland and Rossman. Nyland clocked a 59.36 during preliminaries to break Kyja Penning’s school record of 1:01.20 set in 2009 en route to a runner-up showing in the 100 butterfly. Andersen also took second in the 100 breaststroke to advance to state while Hoffman earned her third trip to state by placing fourth in diving. Those five earned all-section honors.
Receiving all-section honorable mention honors were Nyland (fourth) and Graham (fifth) in the 200 individual medley; Rossman in the 50 freestyle (fifth); Graham in the 100 butterfly (fourth); Rossman (sixth) and Fritze (seventh) in the 100 freestyle; Edevold in the 500 freestyle (eighth); Rossman, Fritze, Edevold and Andersen in the 200 freestyle relay (third); Fritze (sixth) and Hoffman (seventh) in the 100 backstroke; and Graham, Edevold, Mackley and Nyland in the 400 freestyle relay (fifth).
Also placing at the section meet were Edevold (10th) and Mackley (13th) in the 200 freestyle; Hovelsrud in the 200 individual medley (15th); Andersen in the 50 freestyle (11th); Current (11th) and Drury (13th) in diving; Mackley in the 100 butterfly (ninth); Szafranski in the 100 freestyle (15th); Merfeld (12th) and Simonson (14th) in the 500 freestyle; Simonson in the 100 backstroke (12th); and Hovelsrud in the 100 breaststroke (11th).
The other section competitors were Szafranski (18th) and Merfeld (22nd) in the 200 freestyle, Waggoner in the 200 individual medley (17th) and 100 breaststroke (23rd), and Christensen in the 100 backstroke (20th).
Challenging for the section title and qualifying five for state was a nice way to cap off a successful season.
“I didn’t know what to expect this season. We went in with a lot of questions we had to answer,” said Fritze. “My expectations are always high, but we had 14 girls not on the team this year who were on the team last year. We needed the younger kids to step up and they stepped up. This team found a way to be successful. It was a great season.”
In addition to Nyland’s school record in the 100 butterfly, clocking fastest times this season were Rossman in the 50 freestyle (25.84), 100 freestyle (57.12) and 500 freestyle (6:03.68); Edevold in the 200 freestyle (2:12.53); Fritze in the 100 backstroke (1:06.23); Andersen in the 100 breaststroke (1:09.99); and Nyland in the 200 individual medley (2:20.16).
Fritze, Andersen, Nyland and Rossman had the fastest time in the 200 medley relay (1:54.83). Rossman, Fritze, Edevold and Andersen had the fastest time in the 200 freestyle relay (1:45.67). Graham, Edevold, Mackley and Nyland had the fastest time in the 400 freestyle relay (3:57.81).
Nyland led the team in points with 385 and moved into the No. 2 spot in school history in the 200 individual medley in addition to taking over the top spot in the 100 butterfly.
Rossman was named the Panthers’ Most Valuable Swimmer after finishing second in points with 364.50 and qualifying for her third state meet. Rossman moved up to the No. 9 spot in the 100 freestyle.
Andersen was third in points with 354.25 and moved up to the No. 3 spot in school history in the 100 breaststroke. Andersen qualified for her second state meet.
Fritze advanced to her first state meet and was fourth in points with 297. Fritze climbed to the No. 9 spot in the 100 backstroke.
Graham capped off her senior season with 295 points and took over the No. 4 spot all-time in the 100 butterfly.
Edevold scored 267.50 points this season for sixth place.
Mackley was seventh in points with 207.75 and took over the No. 10 spot in the 100 butterfly. Mackley was named the team’s Most Dedicated/Hardest Worker and shared the Spirit Award.
Erickson also received the Spirit Award and finished the season with 172.50 points.
Hoffman was next with 167.75 points and earned her third trip to state. Hoffman graduates in the No. 2 spot in diving with 220.75 points (for six dives) and 343.90 points (for 11 dives).
Simonson rounded out the top-10 point producers with 134.50 points.
Also scoring at least 100 points this season were Hovelsrud (122), Szafranski (120.25) and Merfeld (102.50). Also scoring points on varsity were Waggoner (98.75), Drury (74), Klemmer (71.75), Kimball (41.50), Current (32), Stevenson (31), Simpson (21), Eystad (19.50), Bannerman (13.50), Cease (12), Christensen (11), Hensel (9.50), Ulvin (9.50), Wahl (9.50) and Eischens (8). Hovelsrud was named the team’s Most Improved while Christensen received a Spirit Award.
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers will have four key spots to fill. However, Fritze is once again counting on the younger swimmers to step up and help produce another successful season.
“We lose a lot of depth and have some big holes to fill with the graduation of our four seniors,” said Fritze. “This off-season will be crucial. I’m looking for a good off-season. If the girls work hard, great things will happen.”