Despite the graduation of three state veterans, Todd Fritze is counting on another successful season from the Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team this fall.
Filling in for Katherine Erickson, Emily Creager and Hannah Williams will be the biggest challenge for the Panthers this season. Erickson competed in 13 events at four state Class A meets, Creager competed in 11 events in four state meets and Williams competed in four events in two state meets.
Erickson holds the school record in the 200-yard freestyle and 500 freestyle and as a member of the 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay teams and is second in the 100 backstroke and fifth in the 100 freestyle. Creager holds school records as a member of the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relay teams and ranks second in the 200 freestyle and third in the 100 freestyle. Williams ranks third in the 100 breaststroke and fifth in the 200 individual medley. Those three were the leading point scorers for the Panthers last season.
“We have some hefty holes to fill,” said Fritze, who will be assisted by Kristi Goochey and Carly Helfrich. “We lost a lot of good quality kids, but we still have a good quality team.”
The main reason for the Panthers putting another solid team in the pool is the return of 14 swimmers and divers who scored points last season. Of that group, four return who competed in last year’s state meet.
Being counted on to lead the Panthers this season are the four returning state competitors: seniors Taylor Graham and Ellen Hoffman, junior Lauren Rossman and sophomore Kayla Andersen.
Graham and Rossman swam on the 200 medley relay team that finished 15th in helping the Panthers place 35th at state with 10 points. Rossman rounded out the 400 freestyle relay team that finished 22nd while Rossman and Andersen swam on the 200 freestyle relay team that finished 24th at state. Hoffman placed 24th in diving in her second state trip.
Also being counted on to lead the Panthers to another successful season are seniors Seri Erickson and Christina Mackley; sophomores Jada Current, Alyza Edevold, Paige Fritze, Tea Nyland, Isabela Simonson and Carly Waggoner; and freshmen Caroline Drury and Sarah Merfeld. That group helped the Panthers go 7-1 in dual meets, win the Section 8A True Team and Mid-State Conference titles, and finish second at the Section 8A meet.
Earning all-conference honors last season by placing first at the Mid-State meet were Nyland in the 100 butterfly; Rossman and Andersen in the 200 freestyle relay; and Rossman in the 400 freestyle relay. Receiving all-conference honorable mention honors were Graham, Nyland and Andersen in the 200 medley relay; Graham in the 200 individual medley; Hoffman in diving; Rossman in the 100 freestyle; Fritze, Graham, Mackley and Edevold in the 200 freestyle relay; and Edevold, Nyland and Fritze in the 400 freestyle relay.
Placing at the section meet were Rossman in the 400 freestyle relay (first); Graham and Rossman in the 200 medley relay (second); Rossman and Andersen in the 200 freestyle relay (second); Hoffman in diving (fourth); Fritze (ninth) and Seri Erickson (14th) in the 200 freestyle; Graham (sixth) and Nyland (ninth) in the 200 individual medley; Rossman (fourth), Andersen (10th) and Edevold (12th) in the 50 freestyle; Current in diving (11th); Nyland (fifth), Graham (sixth) and Mackley (eighth) in the 100 butterfly; Fritze in the 100 freestyle (13th); Seri Erickson (11th) and Mackley (14th) in the 500 freestyle; Hoffman (sixth) and Simonson (11th) in the 100 backstroke; and Anderson in the 100 breaststroke (third). Simonson placed 24th in the 500 freestyle.
Rossman, who competed in her second state meet, finished fourth on the team in points with 399 and moved up to the No. 4 spot in school history in the 50 freestyle.
Nyland followed with 339.50 points and climbed to the No. 5 spot in school history in the 100 butterfly.
Graham finished with 329 points and is No. 3 in the 100 butterfly and No. 9 in the 200 individual medley in school history.
Hoffman compiled 282.50 points last season and holds the No. 2 spot on the all-time diving list.
Andersen tallied 280 points and took over the No. 4 spot in school history in the 100 breaststroke.
Fritze rounded out the top 10 point producers with 247.50.
Also scoring more than 100 points last season were Edevold (236), Mackley (185.50), Seri Erickson (156.50), and Current (104).
The other varsity swimmers returning who scored points last season are Simonson (92.50), Drury (33), Merfeld (28.50) and Waggoner (28).
Looking to earn varsity spots this season are junior Rebecca Hays; sophomores Lexi Stevenson, MacKenzie Hensel and Riley Kimball; freshmen Caitlin Wahl, Jasmine Cease, Lizzie Bannerman, Lydia Christensen and Trinah Szafranski; eighth graders Jordan Klemmer and Maija Hovelsrud; and seventh graders Abby Eystad, Katie Eischens, Olivia Ulvin and Sarah Simpson.
“I don’t think we’ll be as deep as we have been in the past, but we’re going to be solid in a lot of events. The kids are pretty versatile, so we’ll be able to move them around,” said Fritze. “We have a lot of girls back who swam at sections. They have experience and they know what to expect. We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves. This is definitely not going to be a down year. This is a different team, but we have similar expectations. We want to win the conference, do well in dual meets and place high at the True Team and section meets.”
Having the veterans perform to their potential and having the younger kids step up and fill key spots will be the key to the Panthers’ meeting their goals.
“So far the team is clicking and the team dynamic is going well. The girls are working hard and our training is going very well right now,” said Fritze. “We’re going to capitalize on our strengths and work on our weaknesses. It comes down to how hard are the girls willing to work to get to where they want to be. I’m excited to see what we can do. I’m pretty optimistic that if the girls continue to work hard, good things will happen.”