Panthers run to successful seasons
The roles were reversed for the Park Rapids boys and girls cross-country teams this season.
Last year, the girls advanced to the state Class A meet as a team while the boys qualified one individual.
This year, the Panthers ended the season by sending the entire boys team to state while the girls qualified one individual.
Led by sophomore Isaac Overmyer's fourth-place finish at the Section 8A meet, the Panthers sent the entire team to state for the first time since 1997. Seniors Jake Waggoner and Tanner Otterness and juniors Zach Jewison, Bailey Mueller, Brad Eischens and Austin Carlson rounded out the team that claimed runner-up honors at the section meet and finished 15th at the state meet. Junior Nathanael Rairdon and seventh grader Tanner Eischens served as alternates on the section and state teams.
The girls saw their streak of competing at state as a team end after three years, but freshman Tayah Otterness extended the Panthers' streak of being represented at state to seven years in a row by placing 12th at the section meet and 104th in her state debut.
In addition, both teams excelled in the classroom as both the boys and girls received Gold Academic Awards for having team GPAs above 3.75.
All things considered, it was another successful season for both cross-country teams.
"I thought we had a very successful season," said Park Rapids head coach Kerry Johnson. "Many of the runners came to the start of the season in much better shape because of their summer running and that is huge. I thought we had some hard working runners who improved the entire season and it was also a very fun group. The future looks bright. I am already fired up for next season. I would really like to take a big bus to state filled with both teams. That is my ultimate goal."
State berth highlights season for boys
After placing fourth the last two seasons, the main goal of the Park Rapids boys cross-country team entering this season was to earn a trip to the state meet.
The combination of returning veterans (Overmyer, Waggoner, Otterness, Mueller, Brad Eischens and Carlson) and a key newcomer (Jewison) helped the Panthers accomplish that goal.
"The boys lived up to my expectations. They have been striving towards state for at least the last three years. Every team strives towards making it to state, but the boys just kept getting closer and closer. I was really hoping this could be their year," said Johnson. "It was huge for the boys to earn that trip to state. Many of them have worked so hard and as soon as they didn't advance last year, their goal became to get to state this year. It's always great to see athletes work hard. Then when they work hard and achieve a major goal, there really isn't anything better."
The Panthers ran consistently all season, beginning with a fifth-place showing at the season-opening Moorhead Invitational. Bemidji won that meet with 46 points while the Panthers tallied 145 points in the nine-team field. Overmyer took fourth, Waggoner was 33rd, Jewison finished 35th, Mueller was 45th and Otterness finished 50th.
At the 11-team Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational, the Panthers earned runner-up honors with 84 points. Overmyer was second, Jewison finished 15th, Waggoner was 17th, Mueller took 25th and Otterness was 27th in that meet. Perham took first with 19 points.
Park Rapids won the team title at the nine-team Pelican Rapids Invitational with 38 points. Overmyer led the field while Waggoner (fifth), Jewison (sixth), Otterness (12th) and Mueller (14th) led the Panthers to the title.
In a preview of the section meet, the Panthers finished sixth at the 21-team Bagley/Fosston Invitational with 131 points. Overmyer was the runner-up and was followed by Waggoner (17th), Jewison (26th), Mueller (37th) and Otterness (54th). Bemidji took first with 54 points.
Even without Overmyer (who competed in the sophomore race), the Panthers finished 11th at the 34-team Milaca Mega Meet with 325 points. Leading the Panthers in that meet were Waggoner (38th), Jewison (64th), Mueller (73rd), Carlson (88th) and Otterness (92nd). Perham won that title with 30 points.
The Panthers followed by placing fourth at the 12-team Fergus Falls Invitational with 123 points. Overmyer was second, Waggoner finished 13th, Jewison was 33rd, Mueller finished 39th and Otterness was 42nd in that meet, which was won by Sartell with 59 points. The Panthers were rated No. 11 in the state Class A poll after that meet.
Park Rapids dropped to the No. 13 spot in the state poll after placing sixth at the 13-team Perham Invitational with 141 points. Overmyer finished fourth, Waggoner was 17th, Jewison took 39th, Otterness was 49th and Brad Eischens finished 58th at that meet. Perham led the way with 17 points.
Overmyer repeated as the Mid-State Conference champion as the Panthers finished fourth with 83 points. Waggoner also earned all-conference honors by placing 10th while Jewison was an all-conference honorable mention runner by placing 15th. Otterness took 26th and Mueller was 31st in that race. Crosby-Ironton, which was rated No. 9 in the state poll, won the conference title with 49 points.
The Panthers concluded the regular season by placing fourth at the 20-team Park Rapids Invitational with 113 points. Overmyer was fourth, Waggoner finished 20th, Jewison was 22nd, Otterness took 35th and Tanner Eischens finished 43rd for the Panthers. Perham again led the way with 17 points.
At the section meet, Perham easily lived up to its No. 1 state ranking by repeating as section champs with 17 points. The Panthers followed with 99 points to claim the other state berth. Overmyer led the way by placing fourth while Waggoner (19th), Jewison (21st), Otterness (29th), Mueller (30th), Carlson (32nd) and Brad Eischens (34th) followed.
Overmyer capped off the season by earning all-state honors by placing 10th at the state meet. Overmyer just missed all-state honors last season by placing 26th in his state debut. Rounding out the Panthers' 365 team score for 15th place at state were Waggoner (No. 132), Jewison (No. 155), Otterness (No. 161) and Mueller (No. 164). Perham captured the state title with 37 points.
Rairdon ran in four varsity races, placing 51st at Moorhead, 36th at Wadena, 26th at Pelican Rapids and 33rd at the conference meet while Tanner Eischens placed 53rd at Moorhead in addition to rounding at the team score at the conference meet.
Also competing for the Panthers on varsity this season were seniors Aaron Hamblin and Jacob Hays, juniors Cody Brumbaugh and Jared Kantonen and sophomore Tyler Breitweser. Hays finished 52nd at Moorhead and 138th at Milaca. Hamblin finished 54th at Moorhead in his first season in cross country. Breitweser took 38th at Wadena.
Overmyer was named the Panthers' MVP, Hays was the Hardest Worker, Rairdon was named Most Improved, Jewison was the Rookie of the Year and Brumbaugh received the Most Spirit award.
Even though the Panthers graduate four runners, Johnson is looking for her team to contend for another trip to state next fall.
"Jake and Tanner were our captains and they really helped get the group moving and helped the newer runners realize what a trip to state could be. They wanted it very badly. Both ran more this summer and they came into the season in great shape. They were ready to get after it," said Johnson. "I am thinking that even though it will be hard to replace our seniors, we have some younger kids who are really going to give it a try. Now that the guys have been to state, I am hoping that will motivate them to get after it next summer."
Girls fielded competitive team
Even though the Panthers had to replace Lydia Lutz, Shelby Pierce and Summer Ellefson, Johnson thought the girls still had a chance to advance to state as a team.
The combination of having to replace Lutz, Pierce and Ellefson (who led Park Rapids to state the last three seasons) and the return of some talented teams in the section prevented the Panthers from achieving that goal.
"I knew it would be hard to replace our top three runners from last year, but I really thought that the girls worked hard and achieved some great things," said Johnson. "They were really a fun group to coach and each one contributed in her own way. I thought the girls had a good season."
While Otterness was a welcome addition to the program, the Panthers returned several veteran runners in seniors Lora Remus, Kaylee Hilmanowski and Morgan Olson and freshmen Megan Olson, Abby Mueller and Maya Johnson. Senior Jordyn Bynum, sophomore Rebecca Hays and eighth graders Madison Steffel and Megan Jewison also competed in cross country for the first time.
That group turned in solid performances all season.
Megan Olson led the Panthers at the season-opening Moorhead Invitational by placing 14th overall. Otterness finished 17th, Remus was 27th, Mueller took 31st and Steffel was 38th as the Panthers finished fifth with 119 points. Willmar led the eight-team field with 29 points.
At the Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational, the Panthers finished third out of 12 teams with 105 points. Otterness was eighth, Remus was 17th, Megan Olson took 19th, Steffel was 27th and Hilmanowski finished 34th. Little Falls was first with 33 points.
A runner-up finish by Otterness and top-10 showings by Remus (sixth), Megan Olson (seventh), Mueller (eighth) and Steffel (ninth) led the Panthers to the team title at the Pelican Rapids Invitational with 24 points.
At the Bagley/Fosston Invitational, the Panthers finished third out of 21 teams as Otterness was 10th, Megan Olson took 19th, Remus was 22nd, Steffel finished 37th and Mueller was 40th for 119 points. Warroad led the field with 73 points.
The Panthers fielded an incomplete varsity team at the Milaca Mega Meet as Remus finished 71st, Morgan Olson was No. 122, Hilmanowski finished No. 133 and Bynum was No. 159.
Otterness finished 15th, Megan Olson was 22nd, Remus took 38th, Mueller finished 57th and Steffel was 60th as the Panthers took seventh at the 12-team Fergus Falls Invitational with 163 points. Sartell took first with 48 points.
Moorhead won the team title at the 13-team Perham Invitational with 22 points while the Panthers placed seventh with 204 points. Otterness (13th), Remus (48th), Steffel (62nd), Morgan Olson (70th) and Hilmanowski (80th) led the Panthers.
Otterness's runner-up finish and Megan Olson's eighth-place showing led to all-conference honors as the Panthers finished fourth at the seven-team Mid-State Conference meet. Remus (21st), Steffel (28th) and Morgan Olson (29th) rounded out the Panthers' 88 team score. Detroit Lakes won the conference title with 39 points.
The Panthers concluded the regular season by placing sixth at the 16-team Park Rapids Invitational with 143 points. Otterness was 14th, Megan Olson placed 27th, Remus was 36th, Mueller finished 39th and Steffel took 45th. Perham led the pack with 60 points.
Perham also captured the section title with 53 points while the Panthers finished fifth out of 22 teams with 143 points. Otterness qualified for state by placing 12th overall while Megan Olson just missed a state berth by placing 17th. Remus capped her senior season by placing 29th while Mueller (39th) and Steffel (48th) rounded out the team score. Hilmanowski finished 56th and Morgan Olson was 59th in their final high school meet.
Otterness capped off her first season by placing 104th out of 175 runners in her state debut.
Bynum also finished 116th at Perham, Johnson took 58th at Bagley and Jewison finished 115th at Perham.
Otterness received the team's MVP honor, Remus was named Hardest Worker, Mueller was the Most Improved, Steffel was named Rookie of the Year and Johnson won the Most Spirit honor.
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers have three key runners to replace. However, Johnson is counting on the returning varsity and junior varsity runners to contend for a state berth.
"Lora, Morgan and Kaylee are used to advancing to state, but they handled the disappointment with grace. Our seniors really helped recruit many of the younger runners. They have been terrific leaders and hard workers. We will miss them a great deal next year, but they laid a strong foundation and have inspired the younger runners," said Johnson. "We are going to have a young team next year and that should be exciting. The younger girls know what it takes to make it to state since most of them have been there before. They are a hard working bunch and I have high expectations for them."