Park Rapids girls track team has all ingredients to capture section titles
Corey Hill has been waiting for this season since he took over as head coach of the Park Rapids girls track and field team.
The Panthers return a veteran team from last year's squad that repeated as Subsection 8-29A champs, moved up to third place at the Section 8A meet and qualified six individuals in four events for the state Class A meet.
Having plenty of talented athletes in every event has Hill expecting an even more successful season this spring.
"I'm expecting a really big year," said Hill. "On paper, it looks like we could dominate. Staying healthy is the key issue. If we stay healthy, we have a chance to accomplish some really big goals this year."
Last season there were 27 athletes who scored points for the Panthers. The Panthers had 10 athletes earn Mid-State Conference honors, 18 athletes score points at the subsection meet and 14 athletes score points at the section meet.
The majority of those athletes return this season.
The Panthers had only two seniors - Rachel Thelen and Lexi Zunich-Andersen - last season. Thelen qualified for state in two events, placing seventh in the pole vault and 19th in the 100-meter dash.
There are 45 members competing for varsity spots this season. Those numbers give Hill plenty of depth and competition in every event.
Heading that list are the other five state qualifiers: seniors Victoria Lutz and Hannah Wolff; junior Sophie Shogren; sophomore Lydia Lutz; and freshman Grace Bateman. The Lutzs, Wolff and Shogren finished fifth in the 4 x 800 relay and Bateman finished 16th in the 300 hurdles at the state meet.
Also returning with plenty of varsity experience are seniors Heather Goodwater, Nicole Knott, Kyja Penning and Shannon Taylor; sophomores Shelby Pierce and Mandy Schirmers; freshmen Tori Lauderbaugh and Morgan Olson; and eighth grader Mady Vaudrin.
At the section meet, Lydia Lutz finished third in the 3,200 run, Victoria Lutz was fourth in the 800, Olson placed fifth in the 3,200 run, Lauderbaugh was fifth in the high jump, Goodwater took sixth in the 100 hurdles, Vaudrin was seventh in the 200 dash, Shogren finished eighth in the 800 run and Knott was eighth in the shot put. In addition, Bateman, Taylor and Vaudrin ran on the 4 x 1 and 4 x 200 relays that placed third and Victoria Lutz, Shogren, Schirmers and Pierce finished fourth in the 4 x 400 relay.
Producing winning efforts at the subsection meet were the 4 x 800 relay team of the Lutzs, Shogren and Pierce; Lydia Lutz in the 3,200 and Bateman in the 300 hurdles. Earning subsection runner-up honors were the other three relay teams, Victoria Lutz in the 800, Olson in the 3,200 and Goodwater in the 100 hurdles.
Returning as all-conference athletes are the Lutzs, Wolff and Pierce in the 4 x 800 relay; Lydia Lutz in the 3,200; Bateman in the 300 hurdles; and Bateman, Taylor and Vaudrin in the 4 x 200 relay. The 4 x 400 relay team of Victoria Lutz, Wolff, Schirmers and Pierce as well as Goodwater in the 100 hurdles earned all-conference honorable mention honors by placing second.
Providing depth for the Panthers this season are sophomores Summer Ellefson, Hannah Fischer, Danielle Hill, Jenna Polley and Shannon Thielen; freshmen Jessica Andersen, Emily Creager, Katherine Erickson, Kaylee Hilmanowski, Beth Klein, Jeni Simpson, Jill Simpson and Alayna Young; eighth graders Crysta Berens, Alyssa Day, Molly Drury, Samantha Harshman, Ellen Hoffman, Kayla Johnk, Camryn Knott, Christina Mackley, Megan Norby, Alex Pederson, Justine Rittgers, Charity Ridlon and Katy Spears; and seventh graders Hannah Gorder, Megan Grimes, Amy Klein, Morgan Knott, Lauren Rossman and Bria Wolff.
Of that group, Erickson (1,600), Hilmanowski (3,200) and Thielen (100 hurdles) also competed at the section meet.
The Panthers have plenty of depth in every event.
In addition to Taylor, Bateman and Vaudrin, Hill has Fischer, Polley, Hill, Creager, the Simpsons, Beth Klein, Andersen, Young, Spears, Norby, Johnk, Camryn Knott, Harshman, Gorder, Hoffman, Rossman, Morgan Knott and Bria Wolff to pick from in the sprints.
Competing in the middle distance events are Victoria Lutz, Penning, Hannah Wolff, Shogren, Pierce, Schirmers, Ellefson, Ridlon, Day, Drury and Amy Klein.
Leading the distance runners are Lydia Lutz, Olson, Hilmanowski, Erickson, Berens and Mackley.
In the hurdles, Hill has Goodwater, Bateman, Thielen, Lauderbaugh, Ellefson, Rittgers, Pederson and Grimes.
Nikki Knott returns to lead the throwers and will be joined by Harshman, Young, Beth Klein and Camryn Knott.
In the high jump, Hannah Wolff, Pierce, Lauderbaugh, Rossman, Bria Wolff and Grimes will lead the way.
Competing in the long jump and triple jump will be Hannah Wolff, Taylor, Ellefson, Fischer, Hill, Creager, the Simpsons, Mackley, Norby, Pederson, Vaudrin and Rossman.
Leading the way in the pole vault are Penning, Shogren, Bateman, Hoffman, Andersen and Morgan Knott.
With all that talent and depth, Hill is looking for the Panthers to challenge to win the Section 6A True Team meet, contend for the conference title, defend the subsection title, vie for the section championship and place in multiple events at the state Class A meet.
"Our deck is stacked. I don't see where we have any weaknesses. We're going to be good all the way through," said Hill, who will be assisted by Leah Hilmanowski. "I think we can win the section True Team title and challenge for the state (True Team) title and I think we can win the section title. I think we have a realistic shot at doing that. The cards are in place. If we can stay healthy, we're going to have a great year."