Swimmers looking to once again be team to beat
With a talented group returning, Todd Fritze is counting on another successful season from the Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team.
Duplicating last year's success could be tough as the Panthers went 8-0 in dual meets, repeated as Mid-State Conference and Section 8A True Team champions, broke four school records, tied the school record by qualifying for the state Class A meet in 10 events en route to claiming runner-up honors at the Section 8A meet, and scored 24 points at the state meet.
Last year's senior duo of Mandy Schirmers and Allycia Zinke played key roles in that success. Schirmers finished 11th in the 100-yard breaststroke and joined Zinke on the 400 freestyle relay team that placed 12th at state. Schirmers also qualified for state in the 200 individual medley and Zinke advanced in the 100 butterfly. Those two also qualified for state in the 200 medley relay.
However, the Panthers return three swimmers and divers who competed at state last season. Seniors Katherine Erickson and Emily Creager and junior Ellen Hoffman return to lead a veteran team that is determined to duplicate last year's success.
Erickson finished 13th in both the 500 freestyle and 100 backstroke and joined Creager to round out the 400 freestyle relay team at state. Creager also qualified for state in the 100 and 200 freestyles while Hoffman made her state debut in diving. Erickson and Creager rounded out the state-qualifying 200 medley relay team.
In addition to those three, the Panthers return 19 other swimmers and divers who scored points on the varsity last season. That group features seniors Jessi Andersen, Heather Kniss, Elizabeth Nichols and Hannah Williams; juniors Seri Erickson, Taylor Graham, Christina Mackley and Alex Pederson; sophomores Emily Eystad, Jessie O'Hern and Lauren Rossman; freshmen Kayla Andersen, Alyza Edevold, Emma Ellefson, Paige Fritze, Tea Nyland, Isabella Simonson and Carly Waggoner; and eighth grader Rachel Konshok.
Rounding out the varsity and junior varsity rosters will be sophomore Madison Ingwaldson; freshmen Jada Current, MacKenzie Hensel, Riley Kimball and Lexi Stevenson; eighth graders Lizzie Bannerman, Jasmine Cease, Lydia Christensen, Caroline Drury, Sarah Merfeld, Joelle Nagel, Myah Schultz and Trinah Szafranski; and seventh graders Eli Forsman, Maija Hovelsrud, Jordan Klemmer and Caitlyn Wahl.
"What I'm really excited about is having 39 girls out. That might be the most we've ever had," said Fritze. "The challenging part is making sure everybody knows their role. Quantity builds quality, which will make us highly competitive."
The Panthers return nine all-conference performers, including three conference champs. Erickson and Graham return to defend the conference title in the 200 medley relay while Erickson and Creager are back to repeat as the Mid-State champs in the 400 freestyle relay. Erickson also won the conference title in the 100 backstroke.
Returning as all-conference honorable mention performers are Creager in the 100 and 200 freestyles, Jessi Andersen and Hoffman in diving, Graham and Nyland in the 100 butterfly, Erickson in the 500 freestyle, and the 200 freestyle relay team of Rossman, Williams, Kniss and Creager.
In addition to the three state qualifiers, there are 12 competitors returning who placed at last year's section meet and two others who competed as the Panthers scored 400 points to trail Bemidji's 426.50 total.
Erickson and Creager are back on the 200 medley relay team that broke the school record and finished first at the section meet. Erickson broke the section and school record in the 500 freestyle and joined Creager on the 400 freestyle relay team that took first and broke the school record.
Creager qualified for state by winning the 200 freestyle and taking second in the 100 freestyle, Erickson returned to state as the section runner-up in the 100 backstroke and Hoffman earned the final state berth by placing fourth in diving.
Also scoring points at the section meet were Fritze (13th) and Seri Erickson (14th) in the 200 freestyle; Graham (10th), Nyland (13th) and Mackley (15th) in the 200 individual medley; Rossman (seventh), Kayla Andersen (15th) and Edevold (16th) in the 50 freestyle; Jessi Andersen (eighth) and Kniss (12th) in diving; Graham (third), Nyland (eighth) and Mackley (10th) in the 100 butterfly; Rossman (seventh), Williams (13th) and Edevold (16th) in the 100 freestyle; Seri Erickson (15th) in the 500 freestyle; Hoffman (fourth) and Jessi Andersen (12th) in the 100 backstroke; and Williams (fifth), Kayla Andersen (12th) and O'Hern (13th) in the 100 breaststroke. Williams, Kniss and Rossman also swam on the 200 freestyle relay team that placed fourth.
Also competing at the section meet were Simonson in the 200 freestyle (26th) and 500 freestyle (25th), Kniss in the 50 freestyle (18th), Fritze in the 500 freestyle (21st), and Eystad in the 100 backstroke (20th).
Erickson led the Panthers by scoring 543.50 points last season and ranks No. 1 in the 500 freestyle, No. 2 in the 100 backstroke, No. 3 in the 200 freestyle and No. 5 in the 100 freestyle in school history. Erickson is seeking her fourth trip to state.
Creager, who was fourth in points with 473.25 and shared the team's MVP honor, holds the school record in the 200 freestyle and is No. 3 in the 100 freestyle. Creager is also seeking her fourth trip to state.
Williams followed with 348.75 points and holds the No. 4 spot in the 100 breaststroke and the No. 8 spot in the 200 individual medley.
Rossman, who was a state qualifier two years ago, finished the season with 330.25 points and ranks No. 10 in the 50 freestyle.
Hoffman scored 318.25 points and moved up to the No. 5 spot in diving.
Graham climbed to the No. 6 spot in the 100 butterfly and tallied 293.50 points.
Jessi Andersen scored 248 points and took over the No. 8 spot in diving.
Scoring more than 100 points last season were Kniss (239.75), Nyland (224.50), Kayla Andersen (182.50), Edevold (161.50), Mackley (157.50), Seri Erickson (123.50) and O'Hern (114.25).
Also scoring points on the varsity were Fritze (95), Eystad (85.75), Pederson (48), Nichols (39.75), Simonson (36), Ellefson (28.50), Konshok (27) and Waggoner (26.75).
"I'm expecting more of the same. You can't replace Mandy and Allycia, but hopefully we'll have kids step up and fill different roles," said Fritze, who will be assisted by Kristi Goochey and Carly Helfrich. "We've got talented kids with good attitudes who are working hard. We need to fine tune a few things, but we're ready to go."
Even with a talented group returning, Fritze knows the Panthers are going to have to deliver in order to repeat as section True Team and Mid-State champions, dethrone Bemidji for the section title and send another strong contingent to the state meet.
"We're going to be in the mix. We just need to worry about what we need to do to make ourselves better. If we do that, we're going to have positive outcomes," said Fritze. "If we want to do anything, we'll have to work for it. If the kids step up, the sky's the limit. We have potential. It's what we do with that potential that will dictate our success. I have high expectations. I think these kids are going to do some exciting things. It should be an exciting year."