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Fritze counting on another successful season

Todd Fritze has a warning for opposing coaches this fall

"Don't underestimate us," said Fritze. "This is Park Rapids swimming. We don't have the experience that we've had in the past, but we still have high expectations like we always do."

The head coach of the Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team will enter the season with about the same number of athletes as last season, but with less experience. However, that won't lessen the high expectations Fritze has for the season.

The Panthers graduated eight swimmers and divers from last year's 21-member team that went 6-3 in dual meets, won the Mid-State Conference title for the 12th year in a row and finished second at both the Section 8A True Team and Section 8A meets. Park Rapids also qualified five swimmers in five events for the state Class A meet and scored 17 points at state.

This season, 18 swimmers and divers reported for the first two weeks of practice. However, that list features only one senior, one junior and seven swimmers and divers who will be competing on varsity for the first time.

That's a far cry from last year's squad, which featured Brandi Werner (who competed in three state meets for the Panthers), Sarah Ament (who swam in four state meets), Megan Goebel (who competed in three state meets), Carly Helfrich (who competed in two state meets) and Lindsey Kanten (who qualified for one state meet in diving). Those five rank among the top-10 in school history in several events.

On the positive side, the Panthers return some experience in senior Kaitlyn Nel-son; junior Alexa Zunich-Andersen; sophomores Greta Ertl, Abby Hanson, Nicole Knott and Kyja Pen-ning; freshmen Melissa Haas, Leah Meinert and Taylor Ondracek; and eighth graders Mandy Schirmers and Allycia Zinke.

All 11 of those swimmers competed in last year's section meet with Nelson qualifying for her first state meet as a member of the 200-yard freestyle relay team.

Nelson, one of the team's captains this season, swam on the conference runner-up 200 medley relay team and placed at the section meet in the 200 medley relay (fourth) and 50 freestyle (ninth) as well as competing in the 100 freestyle (placing 18th).

Zunich-Andersen, the other captain, earned all-conference honorable mention honors with runner-up showings in the 200 medley relay and 100 breaststroke and placed at the section meet in the 200 medley relay (fourth), 100 breaststroke (sixth) and 200 individual medley (11th) last season.

Ertl was another member of the Mid-State runner-up 200 medley relay team as well as the runner-up 200 freestyle relay team. Ertl placed at the section meet in three events, finishing fourth in the 200 medley relay, 10th in the 50 freestyle and 12th in the 100 freestyle.

Hanson competed at the section meet in two events, placing 21st in the 100 breaststroke and 24th in the 200 individual medley.

Knott finished 22nd in the 100 butterfly at the section meet.

Penning was the conference runner-up in diving and holds the No. 6 spot in that event on the school's all-time list with 179.00 points.

Haas capped off last season by placing seventh in the 200 individual medley and 14th in the 100 breaststroke at the section meet.

Meinert placed in two events at the section meet by tying for sixth in the 100 butterfly and finishing seventh in the 500 freestyle.

Ondracek, the team's Most Improved swimmer, finished seventh in the 100 backstroke and 21st in the 500 freestyle at the section meet.

Schirmers and Zinke scored points in their first section meets with Schirmers placing 11th in the 100 breaststroke and 19th in the 200 individual medley and Zinke placing 11th in the 100 butterfly and 17th in the 100 backstroke.

Looking to provide depth on the varsity are seventh graders Jessica Andersen, Emily Creager, Katherine Erickson, Heather Kniss, Tori Lauderbaugh, Hannah Williams and Melissa Vanderstad.

"We're pretty young, but this isn't new territory for us," said Fritze, who will be assisted by Amie Westberg and Kristi Goochey. "We're going to be moving people around to see what's best for the team. We don't have a go-to person this year, so we're going to have to put the kids in the right events."

Fritze expects another tough conference meet as Detroit Lakes, Perham and Staples-Motley attempt to dethrone the Panthers. Challenging for the section title became tougher with the addition of Fergus Falls to Section 8A.

Despite lacking in numbers in the upper grades, Fritze is counting on his younger swimmers to perform like upperclassmen as the Panthers attempt to repeat as Mid-State champs and send some swimmers to the state meet.

"It's going to take a lot of hard work and we're going to have to concentrate more and be a lot smarter swimming, but we're going to be OK," said Fritze. "The girls have to believe in what we're doing and they're going to have to work harder. Being average in our program is not an option. We want to progress throughout the season and achieve our goals."