Panthers take strides forward
In terms of the regular season, the Park Rapids boys swimming team had similar results to last year.
In terms of the post-season, you could argue the Panthers were twice as successful as a team than a year ago.
During the regular season, the Panthers went 0-6 in dual meets and placed near the bottom in every invitational meet. Those results were the same as last season.
The Panthers finished third at the Mid-State Conference meet and last at the Section 3A meet for the second year in a row. However, Todd Fritze's team had much better individual results at those two meets.
At the conference meet, the Panthers had two swimmers earn all-conference honors and eight swimmers receive all-conference honorable mention honors in nine events. That exceeded last year's meet where the Panthers didn't have any all-conference swimmers and had only four all-conference honorable mention swimmers in two events.
At last year's section meet, Bryce Klasen qualified for the state Class A meet in the 100-yard breaststroke and 200 individual medley. As a team, the Panthers had six swimmers place in seven events en route to tallying 56 points.
This year, the Panthers didn't qualify any individuals for state, but did have seven individuals place in nine events en route to scoring 67 points.
During the season, all 17 varsity swimmers - senior Jared Storseth; juniors Nick Belfiori, Zach Lohmeier and Kevin Merfeld; sophomores Tyler Booge, Sam Goebel and Ryan McBrady; freshmen Zach Eystad, Ben Kading, Josh Johnson, Fred Stinar and Jake Waggoner; eighth graders Spencer Adolphson, Steven Osterman and Connor Smythe; and seventh graders Matt Konshok and Dillon Schroeder - scored points.
"I thought we had a pretty good year," said Fritze. "People outside of swimming judge success by wins and losses. We didn't win any meets, but I thought we had a successful season. We had more kids out, we had more kids win awards at the conference meet, and we had more kids qualify for the section meet and swim the second day. I thought we ended the season on a satisfactory note."
The Panthers had only 17 swimmers competing in grades 7-12. Of that group, there were one senior and three juniors and seven were competing on varsity for the first time.
That lack of depth was the main reason the Panthers went 0-6 in dual meets with losses to Sauk Centre/Melrose (102-73 and 96-65), Perham (113-70), Detroit Lakes (102-76), Thief River Falls (99-71) and Bemidji (105-76).
The Panthers also finished seventh out of seven teams at the Fergus Falls Invitational with 105 points, fifth out of five teams at the Detroit Lakes Invitational with 159 points and third at the four-team Park Rapids Invitational with 503.50 points. Fergus Falls won its invitational meet with 495 points, Detroit Lakes compiled 358 points to lead the way at its invitational meet and Perham had 577 points to win the title at Park Rapids.
Detroit Lakes won the Mid-State title with 452 points while Perham was second with 416 points while the Panthers were third with 379 points. Fergus Falls captured the Section 3A title with 304 points. At the state Class A meet, Bemidji finished fourth, Fergus Falls was sixth, Melrose/Sauk Centre placed 12th, Detroit Lakes was 15th, Thief River Falls finished 30th and Perham was 34th.
"Last year we counted on one or two kids," said Fritze. "This year we had a little more depth and had to count on everybody."
Leading the Panthers at the Mid-State Conference meet were Storseth and Merfeld. Storseth won the 100 freestyle while Merfeld took first in the 500 freestyle to earn all-conference honors.
Earning all-conference honorable mention honors by finishing second were Storseth in the 50 freestyle; Goebel in the 500 freestyle; McBrady in the 100 breaststroke; and the 200 medley relay team of Storseth, McBrady, Goebel and Belfiori.
Also earning all-conference honorable mention honors by placing third were Belfiori in the 50 freestyle and Smythe in the 100 backstroke. The 200 freestyle relay team of Storseth, Belfiori, Merfeld and Goebel also took third as did the 400 freestyle relay team of Eystad, Johnson, McBrady and Merfeld.
At the section meet, the 200 medley relay team of Storseth, McBrady, Goebel and Belfiori finished ninth as did the 200 freestyle relay team of Storseth, Belfiori, Eystad and Goebel. The 400 freestyle relay team of Merfeld, Smythe, McBrady and Eystad finished 13th.
Placing as individuals were McBrady in the 100 breaststroke (10th), Storseth in the 50 freestyle (13th) and 100 freestyle (14th), Goebel in the 500 freestyle (13th) and 200 freestyle (16th), and Smythe in the 100 backstroke (13th).
Also competing at the section meet were Johnson (31st) and Merfeld (32nd) in the 200 freestyle; Lohmeier in the 200 individual medley (29th); Belfiori in the 50 freestyle (22nd) and 100 freestyle (27th); Merfeld (20th) and Johnson (24th) in the 500 freestyle; and Eystad in the 100 backstroke (25th).
The Panthers also had two individuals climb up the school's all-time list. Goebel clocked a 1:58.44 to take over the No. 6 spot in the 200 freestyle and clocked a 5:26.40 for the No. 6 spot in the 500 freestyle. McBrady moved up to the No. 10 spot in the 100 breaststroke with a 1:08.11.
Goebel also led the team in scoring with 216.50 points while Storseth was second with 171.50 points. Also scoring at least 100 points were Merfeld (169.50), McBrady (169), Belfiori (155.50), Smythe (150.50) and Eystad (119).
Also scoring points for the Panthers this season were Lohmeier (96), Booge (78), Johnson (77.50), Kading (67), Stinar (37), Osterman (28), Waggoner (26.50), Adolphson (21.50), Konshok (11.50) and Schroeder (8.50).
Although the Panthers have to fill the void left by the graduation of Storseth, Fritze is counting on the experience gained by this year's group to pay dividends next season.
"We don't want to be the team that people want to swim for an easy win. We have to change our commitment level. The kids can't swim for only the three months of the season. They have to put in some time during the off-season," said Fritze. "The future looks pretty good. It depends on if the kids do the right thing and get more dedicated. We have a good core of younger swimmers. It's going to take a lot of hard work to get us to where we want to be. Hopefully the returning kids will see what they need to do to help the team get better."