Panthers win 8A title, send 4 to state
Todd Fritze believed the Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team had the talent to contend for berths in the state Class A meet and vie for one of the top three spots in the Section 8A field.
The Panthers surpassed their coach's expectations during Saturday's section finals at Warroad.
Led by state berths in four events and 23 personal-best efforts, the Panthers captured the section title with 359.50 points. Fergus Falls was second in this nine-team meet with 328 points. This was the Panthers' fifth section title and the first since winning four in a row from 2002-2005.
"This one was pretty amazing. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd have to rate this one an 11," said Fritze, who was named the Section 8A Coach of the Year. "When we won it the first time, we expected to win it. We expected to win it the second time and we knew we had a good shot to win it the next two years. This year we set our goals pretty high. One of our goals was to finish in the top three. I thought that was an attainable goal. The girls hit on all cylinders. This was by far our best performance at a section meet since I've been here."
Freshman Katherine Erickson, sophomore Mandy Schirmers, senior Kyja Penning and freshman Emily Creager opened Saturday's finals with a runner-up time of 1:56.31 in the 200-yard medley relay to qualify for state.
Penning earned a return trip to state by tying for third place in diving with 304 points and followed with a state-qualifying time of 1:02.03 for third place in the 100 butterfly.
Erickson earned her first individual trip to state by winning the 100 backstroke in 1:03.15.
Penning will make her third and final appearance at state in diving Thursday and will join Erickson, Schirmers and Creager in the swimming preliminaries Friday at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. The finals will be held Saturday.
"I think they're going to do pretty well," said Fritze. "Our goal for them is to hold where they are or go a little faster. It's always fun to be there, but we want to do something more. We'd like to be swimming and diving on the final day."
Panthers peak in preliminaries
The Panthers set the tone for a successful section meet by qualifying 14 individuals for the finals in the eight swimming events during Friday's preliminaries.
Erickson (with a 30.14 in the backstroke), Schirmers (with a 32.99 in the breaststroke), Penning (with a 27.36 in the butterfly) and Creager (with a 25.82 in the freestyle) finished second in the 200 medley relay in 1:56.31.
Erickson qualified for the finals in the 200 freestyle by placing fifth in 2:07.27. Erickson was the only Park Rapids swimmer in that event.
The Panthers advanced three swimmers to the finals in the 200 individual medley as Schirmers placed third in 2:24.27, Leah Meinert was fifth in 2:26.91 and Allycia Zinke took seventh in 2:27.15. Abby Hanson finished 23rd in 2:41.42.
In the 50 freestyle, Lauren Rossman finished eighth in 27.26 while Hannah Williams (ninth in 27.38) and Taylor Ondracek (11th in 27.66) qualified for the consolation finals. Heather Kniss finished 22nd in 28.49.
Penning broke her school record in the 100 butterfly with a runner-up 1:01.94. The old record was 1:02.65 set earlier this season. Zinke was fourth in 1:05.55 and Taylor Graham finished 13th in 1:13.38. Hanson placed 19th in 1:14.80.
Creager advanced to the finals in the 100 freestyle with a fourth-place 57.18 while Melissa Haas (ninth in 59.47) and Rossman (11th in 1:00.84) qualified for the consolation finals.
Meinert's 5:40.79 led to a runner-up finish in the 500 freestyle. Christina Mackley finished 25th in 6:34.54.
In the 200 freestyle relay, Penning (26.44), Zinke (27.19), Meinert (27.39) and Creager (26.59) finished fourth in 1:47.61.
Erickson and Ondracek went 1-2 in the 100 backstroke with respective times of 1:03.15 and 1:04.49. Alex Pederson finished 20th in 1:14.29.
Park Rapids sent three swimmers to the finals in the 100 breaststroke as Schirmers was second in 1:11.88, Williams was fifth in 1:14.44 and Haas was seventh in 1:16.04. Mackley added a 1:24.95 for 25th place.
The Panthers capped off the swimming preliminaries by placing third in the 400 freestyle relay. Erickson (58.83), Zinke (59.00), Schirmers (59.09) and Creager (57.10) combined for a 3:54.02.
Penning put herself in position to return to state in diving by compiling 217.50 points for third place during Friday night's first round of eight dives. Ellen Hoffman was 13th with 179.40 points, Jessica Andersen was 16th with 160.85 points and Kniss was 18th with 148.95 points.
"The coaching staff was surprised the girls swam that well. We had 100 percent season bests and were one swim away from having 100 percent lifetime bests," said Fritze. "We had amazing time drops all day. It was an exciting first day."
Panthers challenge for state berths
Saturday's finals went almost as well.
In addition to earning the four state berths, the Panthers had chances to qualify for state in several other events.
The medley relay team set the tone by qualifying for state with its best time of the season. That runner-up finish gave the Panthers 34 points.
After Erickson added 13 points by placing sixth in the 200 freestyle in 2:07.76, Schirmers, Zinke and Meinert scored 44 points in the 200 individual medley. Schirmers just missed a state berth by placing third in 2:24.19 and Zinke was fourth in 2:26.28. Meinert finished sixth in 2:27.93.
Rossman finished eighth in the 50 freestyle in 27.42 while Ondracek (27.29) and Williams (27.31) were the top finishers in the consolation finals as the Panthers scored 27 points in that event.
Penning earned a return trip to state in diving by tying for third place with 304 points. Hoffman placed 11th with 256.05 points and Andersen was 15th with 243.40 points as the Panthers scored 23.50 points.
Penning also earned a state berth in the 100 butterfly, settling for third place with a 1:02.03 to top the state cut time of 1:02.65. Zinke was fourth in 1:04.04 and Graham finished 11th in 1:11.57 to add 37 points to the team total.
Creager's fifth-place 57.76, Haas' ninth-place 1:00.58 and Rossman's 11th-place 1:00.72 in the 100 freestyle added 29 points to the Panthers' team score.
Meinert finished fourth in the 500 freestyle in 5:42.91 for 15 points. Penning (26.52), Zinke (26.63), Meinert (26.82) and Creager (26.14) followed by placing third in the 200 freestyle relay in 1:46.11 for 32 points.
Erickson earned a state berth by winning the 100 backstroke in 1:03.65. Ondracek finished fourth in 1:04.48 as the Panthers received 35 points in that event.
The Panthers scored 40 points in the 100 breaststroke behind Schirmers' 1:12.66 for fourth place, Williams' 1:14.76 for fifth place and Haas' 1:16.47 for eighth place.
Erickson (59.15), Zinke (58.68), Schirmers (59.37) and Creager (56.56) ended the meet by placing fourth in the 400 freestyle relay in 3:53.76 for the final 30 points.
Penning, Schirmers, Erickson and Creager earned all-section honors for qualifying for state. Those four joined Haas, Meinert, Ondracek, Rossman, Williams and Zinke as all-section honorable mention swimmers for placing in the top eight.
Team scores: Park Rapids 359.50, Fergus Falls 328, Bemidji 308.50, Detroit Lakes 294, Warroad 235, Thief River Falls 177, Perham/New York Mills 172, Crookston 105, Fosston/Bagley 96.