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Runners focus on returning to state

Among a talented group of runners for the Park Rapids boys and girls cross-country teams are seniors (clockwise from top) Nikki Eischens, Isaac Overmyer, Alex Boyd and Tyler Breitweser.

     Kerry Johnson is hoping for a repeat performance from the Park Rapids boys and girls cross-country teams this fall.

     Last season, a young Park Rapids crew qualified for the state Class A girls meet while Isaac Overmyer qualified as an individual for the state Class A boys meet.

     With the entire team back, Johnson is looking for the girls to qualify for state as a team for the fifth time in the last six seasons and see Overmyer cap off his senior season with his fourth trip to state.

Girls focused on returning to state

     A year ago, the Panthers capped off a successful season by placing second at the Section 8A meet to advance to state.

     With all seven runners who led the Panthers to 10th place at state back, Johnson is optimistic her team will return to St. Olaf College in Northfield.

     Juniors Megan Olson, Abby Mueller and Tayah Otterness; sophomores Lydia Kantonen, Ellery Overmyer and Madison Steffel; and eighth grader Kendra Coborn return to lead the Panthers this season. Eighth grader Whitney Steffel is also back after serving as an alternate on last year’s state team while senior Nikki Eischens also returns with varsity experience.

     That group, which led the Panthers to four first-place showings and three runner-up finishes in 10 meets last season, is rated No. 10 in the pre-season Class A poll. Defending Section 8A champion Perham is rated No. 4 while Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd is rated No. 1.

     “I have high expectations for the girls this year, but I never take anything for granted,” said Johnson. “Each meet just moves us closer to our ultimate goal of doing well at sections. I really just take it one meet at a time and help the runners work towards improving throughout the season. The keys to doing well this season include staying healthy and motivated. They need to be motivated to get after it every day. They need to push themselves even when they don’t want to and to support each other every step of the way. Having a supportive team goes a long ways toward achieving their goals.”

     Park Rapids won the Mid-State Conference title for the third time in the last five years last fall as Kantonen (second), Olson (fourth), Overmyer (fifth) and Coborn (seventh) earned all-conference honors.

     At the section meet, Perham claimed the title with 46 points while the Panthers followed with 56 points to qualify for state. Kantonen (second), Olson (seventh), Overmyer (10th) and Coborn (15th) earned all-section honors while Madison Steffel (26th) rounded out the team score. Mueller finished 28th and Otterness was 52nd.

     At the state meet, the Panthers finished 10th with 244 points behind Kantonen (43rd), Coborn (85th), Olson (91st), Overmyer (106th), Mueller (161st), Madison Steffel (162nd) and Otterness (171st).

     During the season, Olson was the team’s No. 1 runner in five meets and No. 2 runner in two meets. Kantonen was the No. 1 runner in five meets and No. 2 runner in four meets. Overmyer was the No. 2 runner in two meets and No. 3 runner in six meets. Coborn was the No. 2 runner in one meet, No. 3 runner in one meet and No. 4 runner in five meets. Madison Steffel was the No. 3 runner in one meet, No. 4 runner in two meets and No. 5 runner in five meets. Mueller was the No. 5 runner in three meets and No. 6 runner in six meets. Otterness was the No. 4 runner in one meet, No. 5 runner in one meet and No. 7 runner in five meets. Whitney Steffel was the No. 7 runner in one meet. Eischens was the No. 7 runner in one meet.

     Providing depth for the Panthers this season will be freshman Alex Kirlin and eighth graders Kinley Nordin, Abby Eystad and Paige Leeseberg.

     “I think the girls are very determined to go after the conference title and return to the state meet. I know that other teams will be gunning for them, so they won’t have that element of surprise this year. We just have to see what the other teams bring to the races. If they worked harder and have more eye of the tiger, our team goals may have to wait. I truly hope that isn’t the case,” said Johnson. “I know the girls want to improve on last year’s season. I just really hope everyone stays healthy and keeps working. It could be a very exciting season.”

Overmyer returns to lead boys

     Not only is Overmyer seeking his third consecutive all-state honors, the Park Rapids senior is seeking to close his high school career as a state champion.

     Overmyer earned all-state honors by placing 10th in 2012 and moved up to fourth place at state last season. In 11 meets last season, Overmyer took first four times and was the runner-up in four other meets to enter the state meet rated No. 7 among Class A runners. In this year’s pre-season Class A poll, Overmyer is rated No. 2 behind Waseca’s Shane Streich.

     “It is exciting to have one of the top runners in the state on our team. Isaac really leads by example and never dogs it or takes the easy way out,” said Johnson. “Isaac has really put on the miles this summer. He has also worked very hard in the weight room. He is driven. I know he feels the pressure to retain the title of conference champ since he has earned that for the past three years and I feel he has what it takes. It will be great to see how Isaac improves even over last year’s successful season. I hope that he achieves all the goals he has set. He really will have earned them.”

     With Overmyer leading the way, the Panthers had a successful season by placing second in two meets before ending the season by placing fifth at the Mid-State Conference meet and fourth at the Section 8A meet.

     Duplicating those efforts could be tough since the Panthers graduated seven runners, including Zach Jewison (the team’s No. 2 runner in six meets), Bailey Mueller (the No. 2 runner in three meets and No. 3 runner in six meets), Brad Eischens (the No. 4 runner in six meets), Jared Kantonen (the No. 6 runner in seven meets), Nathanael Rairdon (who was the No. 7 runner in three meets) and Austin Carlson (who was the No. 6 runner in one meet). Jewison, Mueller, Eischens and Carlson ran on the team that placed 15th at state in 2012.

     In addition to Overmyer, the Panthers return three runners who competed on varsity last season. That list features seniors Tristan Breitweser and Alex Boyd and junior Marcus Hoyer.

     Overmyer led the field at Staples-Motley, Pelican Rapids and Bagley before winning the Mid-State Conference title for the third year in a row. Overmyer capped off the season by placing second at the section meet before repeating as an all-state runner.

     Breitweser was the Panthers’ No. 2 runner at the conference meet, No. 3 runner at two meets, No. 4 runner at two meets and No. 5 runner at four meets before finishing 28th overall as the No. 3 runner at the section meet.

     Boyd was the team’s No. 7 runner in three meets, including the conference meet, while Hoyer was the team’s No. 7 runner in his only varsity meet.

     Looking to fill in the other varsity spots and provide depth will be junior Jacob Bridgman, sophomores Jack Christensen and Adam Jacobi, freshmen Darien Simon and Will Pickar, and seventh grader Keegan Moses.

     “I see this as a rebuilding season and we may have that for a few years. We lost some great seniors. Our numbers are hurting because we didn’t get seven new guys out to replace the seniors who graduated,” said Johnson. “We have some young runners, so they will just need to take it one meet at a time. I am excited to see how much they improve from our first meet to our last. They have good attitudes and I am hoping they will work hard and push each other. Spots on the team are wide open. They just need to go out and earn one. My expectation for the guys is to work hard and improve each meet.”