Swimmers reflect on successful season
Almost three months after leaving the pool, the members of the Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team had a chance to relive a record-setting season Sunday night.
At their annual banquet, the Panthers celebrated a near-perfect season, which featured going 8-0 in dual meets, repeating as Section 8A True Team and Mid-State Conference champions, breaking four school records and tying the school record by qualifying for the state Class A meet in 10 events.
Highlighting the season was having seniors Mandy Schirmers and Allycia Zinke, juniors Emily Creager and Katherine Erickson, and sophomore Ellen Hoffman qualify for the state meet.
Those five led the Panthers to runner-up honors at the Section 8A meet with Schirmers, Zinke, Creager and Erickson breaking four school records in the process.
At the state meet, the Panthers finished 26th with 24 points. Schirmers placed 11th in the 100-yard breaststroke while Erickson finished 13th in both the 500 freestyle (with a school-record time of 5:23.42) and 100 backstroke. Those two joined Zinke and Creager on the 400 freestyle relay team that finished in 12th place.
The Panthers didn't advance to the state finals in the other six events. Hoffman qualified in diving. Creager was a state qualifier in the 100 and 200 freestyle races. Schirmers advanced in the 200 individual medley. Zinke qualified in the 100 butterfly. Erickson, Schirmers, Zinke and Creager advanced in the 200 medley relay.
In addition to the five state qualifiers, the Panthers received solid contributions from the other 19 varsity swimmers and divers: juniors Hannah Williams, Jessi Andersen, Heather Kniss and Elizabeth Nichols; sophomores Taylor Graham, Christina Mackley, Seri Erickson and Alex Pederson; freshmen Lauren Rossman, Jessie O'Hern and Emily Eystad; eighth graders Tea Nyland, Kayla Andersen, Alyza Edevold, Paige Fritze, Isabela Simonson, Emma Ellefson and Carly Waggoner; and seventh grader Rachel Konshok.
Needless to say, it was another very successful season for the Panthers.
"We set some pretty lofty goals at the beginning of the season," said Park Rapids head coach Todd Fritze. "We didn't get all of them, but we got the majority of them. It was a pretty special year."
After opening the season by winning the eight-team Detroit Lakes Pentathlon with 234 points, the Panthers defeated Warroad (102-76), Thief River Falls (107-67) and Fosston/Bagley (60-32) to open the dual season with a 3-0 record.
Melrose won the Park Rapids Invitational with 636 points. Brainerd was second with 509 points while the Panthers took third out of seven teams with 443 points.
Park Rapids coasted through the rest of its dual schedule with victories over Crookston (95-77), Perham/New York Mills (97-88), Bemidji (99-87), Staples-Motley (106-46) and Detroit Lakes (191-111).
The Panthers went undefeated in dual meets for only the second time in school history. The 2002 team went 10-0.
A total team effort helped the Panthers defend the Section 8A True Team title with 1,586 points. Perham/New York Mills was second with 1,370 points. At the state True Team meet, the Panthers finished 12th with 995.50 points. Hutchinson won the state title with 2,073.50 points.
At the Mid-State Conference meet, the Panthers won only four events, but relied on depth to repeat as conference champs with 460 points. Perham claimed runner-up honors with 417 points.
Winning conference titles for the Panthers were Erickson, Schirmers, Graham and Zinke in the 200 medley relay; Zinke in the 100 butterfly; Erickson in the 100 backstroke; and Erickson, Zinke, Schirmers and Creager in the 400 freestyle relay.
Earning all-conference honorable mention honors by placing second were Creager in the 200 freestyle and 100 freestyle, Jessi Andersen in diving, Graham in the 100 butterfly and Erickson in the 500 freestyle. The 200 freestyle relay team of Rossman, Williams, Kniss and Creager also took second.
Also receiving all-conference honorable mention honors by placing third were Schirmers in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke, Zinke in the 50 freestyle, Hoffman in diving, and Nyland in the 100 butterfly.
Bemidji prevented the Panthers from a perfect season by winning the section title with 426.50 points. The Panthers earned runner-up honors with 400 points.
Even though the Panthers didn't defend their section title, they turned in another solid team performance by breaking four school records.
Erickson, Schirmers, Zinke and Creager broke the school record in the 200 medley relay with a winning time of 1:53.85. The old record was a 1:54.59 by Katie Gravalin, Beth Morris, Rachel Helm and Aysen Wallace in 1997.
Schirmers broke the school record in the 200 individual medley with a runner-up time of 2:16.58. That broke Morris' 1997 record of 2:20.65.
Erickson broke the school and section record in the 500 freestyle with a winning time of 5:24.85. Brandi Werner held the school record of 5:32.40 set in 2005 while Fergus Falls' Line Fremstad set the previous section record of 5:26.40 in 1998.
Erickson, Zinke, Schirmers and Creager capped off the section meet by winning the 400 freestyle relay in 3:42.96 to break the school record of 3:47.61 set by Erickson, Leah Meinert, Hannah Williams and Creager last season.
Creager won the 200 freestyle and was the runner-up in the 100 freestyle, Hoffman took fourth in diving, Zinke was the runner-up in the 100 butterfly, Schirmers won the 100 breaststroke, and Erickson took second in the 100 backstroke to claim the Panthers' other state berths.
Also placing 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; Zinke, Rossman, Kniss and Williams (fourth) in the 200 freestyle relay; Hoffman (fourth) and Jessi Andersen (12th) in the 100 backstroke; and Williams (fifth), Kayla Andersen (12th) and O'Hern (13th) in the 100 breaststroke.
Missing out on reaching the finals at the section meet were Simonson in the 200 freestyle (26th); Kniss in the 50 freestyle (18th); Fritze (21st) and Simonson (25th) in the 500 freestyle; and Eystad in the 100 backstroke (20th).
At the state meet, Hoffman placed 28th in diving, Creager finished 18th in the 200 freestyle and 20th in the 100 freestyle, Schirmers placed 25th in the 200 individual medley and Zinke finished 17th in the 100 butterfly. Erickson, Schirmers, Zinke and Creager were disqualified in the 200 medley relay.
"Our goal is to become an elite team," said Fritze. "We scored points at state, but we need to take the next step and get to the top heat. We not only want to get kids to state, we want to score in the top eight."
Erickson led the Panthers with 543.50 points and played a role in breaking three of the four school records. In addition to claiming the school record in the 500 freestyle, Erickson moved to the No. 2 spot in the 100 backstroke (1:01.25) and the No. 5 spot in the 100 freestyle (56.40). Erickson also ranks No. 3 in the 200 freestyle (2:02.65). Erickson received the team's Hardest Worker/Most Dedicated award and shared the team's Most Spirited honor.
Schirmers, who shared the team's MVP honor, was next in points with 483 and also played a role in three school records this season. In addition to being the record holder in the 200 individual medley, Schirmers moved up to the No. 2 spot in the 100 breaststroke (1:08.10).
In addition to swimming on the two record-breaking relay teams, Zinke moved into the No. 2 spot in the 100 butterfly (1:01.94) and finished the season with 481.75 points. Zinke also ranks No. 5 in the 200 individual medley (2:23.21).
Creager, who was also named the team's co-MVP, was fourth in total points with 473.25 and also swam on both record-setting relay teams. Creager holds the school record in the 200 freestyle (2:01.44) and currently ranks No. 3 in the 100 freestyle (55.75).
Williams finished fifth in points with 348.75 and moved up to the No. 4 spot in school history in the 100 breaststroke (1:12.90). Williams also ranks No. 8 in the 200 individual medley (2:24.54). Williams shared the team's Most Spirited award.
Rossman followed with 330.25 points for the No. 6 spot. Rossman currently sits in the No. 10 spot in the 50 freestyle (26.47).
Hoffman climbed to the No. 5 spot in diving (193.60 points) and finished the season with 318.25 points.
Graham compiled 293.50 points this season and moved to the No. 6 spot in the 100 butterfly (1:05.50).
Jessi Andersen finished with 248 points and climbed to the No. 8 spot in diving (186.85 points).
Also scoring more than 100 points this 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). Nyland moved up to the No. 9 spot in the 100 butterfly (1:07.12) and was named the Panthers' Most Improved.
The other Panthers who scored points on varsity this season were Fritze (95), Eystad (85.75), Pederson (48), Nichols (39.75), Simonson (36), Ellefson (28.50), Konshok (27) and Waggoner (26.75).
"It's getting harder and harder to get on our (record) board," said Fritze. "To get your name up there is pretty special."
After reflecting back on another special season, Fritze is already counting on the Panthers to produce another successful season next fall.
"We know we can't replace Mandy and Allycia. They came into the season with a different mentality. They were focused on what we needed to do and they led the way," said Fritze. "We never try to replace kids. We just hope the other girls step up and fill those roles. I think the girls have some unfinished business. I'm hoping they put in the time and come back with the drive to be successful. Our expectations are still going to be high. We're going to shoot for the moon again."