Swimmers entered section meet confident of qualifying for state
Qualifying for the state Class A girls swimming meet didn't really surprise Park Rapids' Leah Meinert, Taylor Ondracek, Mandy Schirmers, Allycia Zinke, Emily Creager, Katherine Erickson, Hannah Williams and Lauren Rossman.
Those eight swimmers were a little surprised after qualifying for state in eight events and winning the Section 8A title by 115 points.
The Panthers set a school record by sending eight swimmers to the state meet at last Saturday's Section 8A meet at Bemidji. Park Rapids compiled 422.50 points to easily finish ahead of Bemidji's 307.50 total to repeat as section champs. The section title was the sixth for the Panthers and the eight state qualifiers topped the previous record of seven set in 1997 and 2002.
"It was really nice to repeat," said Meinert. "To win by that much was pretty cool. It was a total team effort. We had confidence in each other because we knew what we were capable of doing."
"Going in, our goal was to keep it," said Schirmers, who joined Creager by qualifying in four events. "We just thought about what we needed to do. We were focused."
"It was really important to win it for a second time in a row," said Erickson. "I was confident we'd do well. Our taper always works well. Getting so many girls to state was awesome."
Even though the Panthers didn't win a single event, they used seven runner-up showings and one state-qualifying time to qualify for state in eight events.
Erickson (a sophomore), Schirmers (a junior), Zinke (a junior) and Rossman (an eighth grader) led off the meet by qualifying for state with a runner-up 1:55.19 in the 200-yard medley relay. That easily met the state-qualifying time of 1:56.48.
Creager (a sophomore) followed with a runner-up 2:01.44 in the 200 freestyle to top the cut time of 2:01.47 and break Tavia Schumacher's 2002 school record of 2:02.21.
Schirmers earned a state berth with a runner-up 2:21.98 in the 200 individual medley before Creager qualified with a runner-up 55.75 in the 100 freestyle.
The Panthers qualified another relay team when Zinke, Schirmers, Rossman and Creager combined for a runner-up 1:43.71 in the 200 freestyle relay.
Erickson and Ondracek (a senior) both qualified in the 100 backstroke by meeting the state-qualifying time. Erickson finished second in 1:01.87 and Ondracek was third in 1:01.95. The state cut time was 1:04.15.
Schirmers qualified in her fourth event with a runner-up 1:10.52 in the 100 breaststroke. That topped the qualifying time of 1:11.49.
Park Rapids capped off the meet with another school record when Erickson, Meinert (a senior), Williams (a sophomore) and Creager teamed up for a runner-up 3:47.61 in the 400 freestyle relay. That met the cut time of 3:47.92 and broke the 2001 school record of 3:48.24 set by Schumacher, Angie Behrens, Heidi Koeller and Caroline Schik.
Those eight swimmers were looking to advance out of Friday's preliminaries and make today's (Saturday's) finals of the state Class A meet at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.
"I was hoping to go to state in at least two of my events. I'm really happy to be going in all four," said Schirmers. "After the first day (of sections), I was pretty sure I'd go in at least two. I was second in all four, so I focused on keeping my spots and lowering my times."
"I knew my two relays would most likely go. After the first day, there was no doubt," said Zinke. "I'm really excited to get to swim at state. I think we'll go to the second day in both relays."
"I thought going to state in four events would be nice, but I at least wanted to go in one," said Creager. "I'm hoping I can break the school record in the 100 free and 200 free and I hope we can break the record in the 200 and 400 relays."
"I didn't really think about it (going to state)," said Rossman. "It's exciting. It would be fun to make it to the second day in both relays. It's going to be close, but I think we can do it if we drop time."
Medley relay sets the tone
After clocking a runner-up 1:56.50 to finish second during last Friday's preliminaries, the members of the medley relay team were confident of repeating that performance in the finals and qualifying for state.
The 1:56.50 topped the Panthers' seed time of 1:59.55 and trailed only Fergus Falls' 1:52.14. Crookston was third in 2:00.52.
In the finals, Erickson led off the backstroke with a 29.74, Schirmers followed with a 31.76 in the breaststroke, Zinke clocked a 28.27 in the butterfly and Rossman went 25.42 in the freestyle for a runner-up 1:55.19. Fergus Falls took first in 1:52.42 while Detroit Lakes was a distant third in 1:58.81.
That relay team entered state seeded No. 16 out of 27 qualifying teams. Monticello had the best time with a 1:50.16.
"I thought we did OK, but we can do better," said Zinke. "I wanted to reach 26 in the fly. Hopefully I can do that at state."
"The medley went last year, so I thought we had a good chance," said Rossman. "I was pretty nervous. I just wanted to swim hard and hoped my taper worked."
"I really wanted us to make it to state in the medley," said Erickson, who teamed with Schirmers, Kyja Penning and Creager in the 200 medley relay that tied for 19th place at state last year with a time of 1:56.01. "I want the medley to make it to the second day and get the school record."
The school record is 1:54.59 set by Katie Gravalin, Beth Morris, Rachel Helm and Aysen Wallace in 1997.
Creager sprints to state
Entering the section meet, Creager liked her chances of qualifying for state in the 200 freestyle, but wasn't so sure in the 100 freestyle.
"I thought I had a good chance in the 200 free, but I wasn't expecting to go to state in the 100 free," said Creager. "I'm happy to be going in both."
Friday's preliminaries put Creager in position to qualify in both races.
In the 200 freestyle, Creager clocked a runner-up 2:02.62 to trail only Bemidji's Steph Frey's winning time of 2:00.29. Creager entered the section meet with a seed time of 2:07.59. Erickson was third in 2:05.21.
In the 100 freestyle, Creager clocked a 56.76 to top her seed time of 58.36 and trail only Fergus Falls' Heidi Busack's time of 53.21. Andrea Weiss of Detroit Lakes was third in 57.97.
Creager went faster in the finals by breaking the school record with a 2:01.44 in the 200 freestyle and following with a runner-up 55.75 in the 100 freestyle. Frey took first in the 200 freestyle by breaking the section record with a 1:56.07 while Erickson was third in 2:02.65. Busack broke her own section record with a 52.74 while Weiss was third in 56.30 in the 100 freestyle.
Creager entered state seeded 25th out of 29 qualifiers in the 200 freestyle and 22nd out of 23 qualifiers in the 100 freestyle. Sartell's Marisa Wood had the fastest qualifying time in the 200 freestyle with a 1:54.00 while Monticello's Amanda Paulson entered state with a 52.40 in the 100 freestyle.
"I was trying to beat (Frey) in the 200, but I was happy with second. I was looking for the cut time (of 55.32) in the 100, but I got second and that's all that matters," said Creager. "I wanted to break the (school) record (of 54.99 by Caroline Schik) in the 100. I'm aiming for that at state. I also want to break my own record in the 200."
Schirmers fulfills goal
After placing third in the 200 individual medley and fourth in the 100 breaststroke at last year's section meet, Schirmers was determined to qualify for state in both events this year.
Schirmers fulfilled that mission.
During Friday's preliminaries, Schirmers was second in the 200 individual medley with a 2:21.93 and second in the 100 breaststroke with a 1:11.97. That topped her seed times of 2:28.70 in the 200 individual medley and 1:13.06 in the 100 breaststroke.
Detroit Lakes' Melissa Paakh had the fastest time in the 200 individual medley with a 2:19.25 while Williams was third in 2:24.54. In the 100 breaststroke, Frey led the way with a 1:09.31 while Perham's Kelsey Kratzke was third in 1:12.38.
In the finals, Schirmers secured a state berth in the 200 individual medley with a runner-up 2:21.98. Paakh won the section title in 2:17.08 while Zinke placed third in 2:23.21. The state cut was a 2:18.87.
Schirmers then locked up her fourth state berth with a runner-up 1:10.52 in the 100 breaststroke. Frey took first in 1:08.04 and Kratzke was third in 1:10.59 as all three swimmers met the cut time of 1:11.49.
Schirmers was seeded 26th out of 28 qualifiers in the 200 individual medley and was tied for 19th out of 28 swimmers in the 100 breaststroke. The top times were a 2:08.96 by St. Michael-Albertville's Kasey Roberts in the 200 individual medley and a 1:06.51 by St. Louis Park's Kathryn Ostrom in the 100 breaststroke.
"I want to make it to the second day in all four events," said Schirmers. "I have to drop quite a bit of time in my events, but I think the relays have a good shot to make it to the second day. I'm happy to be going, but I'm hoping to do something there."
200 relay seeking record
Despite having the No. 4 seed time, the 200 freestyle relay team was confident of moving up a couple spots to advance to state.
During preliminaries, the Panthers accomplished that goal by improving on their 1:47.98 seed time with a runner-up 1:45.65. Fergus Falls was first in 1:43.81 while Bemidji (1:46.84) and Thief River Falls (1:47.75) trailed.
In the finals, Zinke led off with a 26.79, Schirmers clocked a 25.86, Rossman went 25.58 and Creager anchored with a 25.48 as the Panthers held on to the No. 2 spot with a 1:43.71. Fergus Falls took first in 1:43.09 while Bemidji was third in 1:43.78. The cut time was a 1:43.52.
That relay team was seeking to break the school record of 1:42.06 set by Schik, Nikki Breitbach, Emma Helfrich and Schumacher in 2001.
"I thought we had a good chance to make it," said Creager. "I'm hoping we can break the record at state."
"We wanted to break the (school) record," said Zinke. "Hopefully we can do it at state."
Erickson, Ondracek qualify
After qualifying for state in the 100 backstroke last year, Erickson was confident of returning to state in that event this year.
After suffering a concussion early in the season, Ondracek wasn't sure if she could cap off her senior season with her first trip to state.
Both swimmers earned state berths in impressive fashion.
Erickson, who won the section title in 1:03.65 and finished 21st in her state debut with a 1:04.81 last year, put herself in position to return to state with a runner-up 1:02.48 during preliminaries. That topped her seed time of 1:04.23.
Ondracek also had an impressive showing during preliminaries with a first-place 1:02.27. That shattered her seed time of 1:06.82 and easily met the state-qualifying time of 1:04.15. Fergus Falls' Abby Fisher also met the state cut by placing third in 1:02.50.
In the finals, Fisher won the section title in 1:01.85 to touch out both Erickson (1:01.87) and Ondracek (1:01.95) Thief River Falls' Gracie Daniels finished fourth, but qualified by meeting the cut time with a 1:03.15.
"I didn't swim as well as I thought I would the first day," said Erickson. "My goal was to get a 1:00 in the backstroke, but I dropped more than two seconds. I was happy with that."
"I didn't want to get fourth again," said Ondracek, who finished fourth in the 100 backstroke the last three years. "My goal time was a 1:03. I was very happy I dropped a bunch of time. I got the state cut (Friday) and I was hoping to get that again. I felt good and I knew I could drop more time. I'm so happy to be going."
Erickson entered state seeded No. 6 and Ondracek was seeded No. 8 out of 28 qualifiers. Monticello's Caley Oquist has the top time of 58.36. Both have a shot to break Brandi Werner's 2005 school record of 1:00.87.
"My goal is to drop time and get in the top eight," said Erickson.
"I worked so hard to get back in shape," said Ondracek, who missed four meets early in the season after suffering a concussion in practice. "My goal is to get below a 1:01. I'd like to break the (school record), but I'd be happy with anything faster than a 1:01."
400 relay breaks record
Finishing ahead of Bemidji during preliminaries gave the 400 freestyle relay team plenty of confidence entering the finals.
In the preliminaries, Erickson, Williams, senior Melissa Haas and Creager finished third in 3:54.84. That was below their seed time of 3:57.10, but trailed Fergus Falls' 3:46.56, Detroit Lakes' 3:53.48 and the state-qualifying time of 3:47.92. Bemidji was fourth with a 3:57.97.
In the finals, the Panthers moved up a spot when Erickson led off with a 57.05, Meinert clocked a 57.62, Williams went 57.46 and Creager finished up in 55.48 for a school-record time of 3:47.61. Fergus Falls took first in 3:41.96 while Detroit Lakes was third in 3:48.12.
"This was potentially my last race and there was no way I was going to go down easy. I wanted to leave knowing I went as fast as I could. I was going to go down fighting," said Meinert. "It's always been a goal of mine to go to state. I finally accomplished it."
"We hadn't beat Bemidji in this relay all year. It felt good to beat them," said Williams. "I knew we could do it. I had total faith that we could make the cut time. When we saw our time and knew we were going to state, we freaked out. It was crazy."
That relay team entered state seeded 18th out of 21 teams. Hutchinson had the best time of 3:40.63.
"Making it to state is extra special," said Williams. "I'd really like us to break our record. I think we can go faster. I think we have a good shot."
"I'm hoping we can make it to the second day," said Meinert. "I hope we go faster than sections and break our record."