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Panthers enjoy special swimming season

Having sophomore Spencer Fritze earn all-state honors in diving, sending six individuals to the state Class A meet in six events, going undefeated in dual meets for the first time in school history and breaking five school records highlighted a highly successful season for the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team.

Fritze capped off the season by placing seventh in diving at the state meet while freshman Marcus Benson placed 11th in the 100-yard backstroke as the Panthers placed 26th in the team standings with 18 points. Benson's 55.46 broke Connor Smythe's 2014 school record of 56.15.

Also competing at the state meet were the 200 medley relay team of junior Casimir Simonson, Fritze, junior Zach Behrens and junior Matt Benson (20th); Matt Benson in the 200 freestyle (26th); Fritze in the 50 freestyle (26th); and Fritze, Behrens, senior Sam Eystad and Matt Benson in the 200 freestyle relay (19th). The 200 freestyle relay team clocked a 1:31.80 to break the school record of 1:32.39 set by Smythe, Ben Kading, Jake Waggoner and Zach Eystad in 2013.

In addition to qualifying six for state, the Panthers went undefeated in dual meets with a 7-0 record, won the Mid-State Conference title, placed fifth at the Section 5A True Team, and finished fourth at Section 5A meet.

"I was pretty excited about what we had coming back. We had hoped to build on our success from the year before and as the season progressed, the kids continued to get better," said Park Rapids head coach Todd Fritze. "We had a great season."

In addition to the state qualifiers, seniors Jack Bateman, Kaleb Carlson, Jack Christenson, Jack Walsh, Tim Walsh and Steve Wattenhofer; juniors Matt Bruce, Sam Huot and James Utke; sophomores Seth Breitweser and Zach Fritze; freshmen Dominik Backmann, Kamryn Etter, Daniel Neubauer and Dan Walsh; eighth graders Ethan Hemenway, Elliot Nichols, Thomas Williams and Jacob Zinniel; and seventh grader Jessup Cempa helped the Panthers live up to the team's high expectations.

Park Rapids began the season with a runner-up finish at the six-team Fergus Falls Invitational with 476 points (Fergus Falls took first with 526 points) before defeating Bemidji (113-72), Grand Rapids (112-72), Perham (108-53) and Detroit Lakes (110-75) in dual meets.

After finishing fifth at the Section 5A True Team meet with 942 points (Sartell-St. Stephen took first with 1,418 points), the Panthers closed out a perfect season in dual meets by defeating Thief River Falls (114-56), Melrose/Sauk Centre (94-92) and Bemidji (101.50-82.50).

The Panthers won the title at the three-team Park Rapids Invitational with 879 points and claimed the Mid-State Conference title with 507 points (Detroit Lakes was second in both meets with respective totals of 693 and 464).

Nine winning times led the Panthers to the Mid-State Conference title. Earning all-conference honors with first-place performances were Simonson, Spencer Fritze, Behrens and Matt Benson in the 200 medley relay (with a conference-record time of 1:44.82); Matt Benson in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle; Behrens in the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly; Spencer Fritze in the 50 freestyle; Spencer Fritze, Behrens, Eystad and Matt Benson in the 200 freestyle relay; Simonson in the 100 backstroke; and Carlson in the 100 breaststroke.

Placing second for all-conference honorable mention honors were Williams, Carlson, Zach Fritze and Breitweser in the 200 medley relay; Simonson in the 200 individual medley; Zach Fritze in the 50 freestyle; Spencer Fritze in diving; Marcus Benson in the 100 backstroke; and Simonson, Eystad, Bateman and Marcus Benson in the 400 freestyle relay.

Also earning all-conference honorable mention honors by placing third were Marcus Benson in the 200 freestyle; Eystad in the 50 freestyle and 500 freestyle; Breitweser in diving; Zach Fritze in the 100 butterfly; Williams in the 500 freestyle and 100 backstroke; and Tim Walsh, Breitweser, Dan Walsh and Bateman in the 200 freestyle relay.

Sartell-St. Stephen won the Section 5A title with 531 points while Alexandria (353), Melrose/Sauk Centre (302) and Park Rapids (301) followed in this 10-team meet.

At the section meet, the 200 medley relay team of Simonson, Fritze, Behrens and Matt Benson finished fourth with a state-qualifying time of 1:42.10. That broke the school record of 1:43.91 set by Simonson, Fritze, Benson and Hunter Utke last season. Matt Benson took third in the 200 freestyle while Fritze advanced by placing third in the 50 freestyle and second in diving. The 200 freestyle relay unit of Fritze, Behrens, Eystad and Benson finished third while Marcus Benson claimed the final state berth by placing second in the 100 backstroke.

In addition to the state qualifiers, the Panthers had several other swimmers and divers score points at the section meet.

Advancing to the finals were Marcus Benson in the 200 freestyle (eighth); Behrens in the 200 individual medley (sixth) and 100 butterfly (seventh); Zach Fritze (seventh) and Eystad (eighth) in the 50 freestyle; Breitweser (seventh) and Christenson (15th) in diving; Simonson in the 100 freestyle (seventh) and 100 backstroke (fifth); Carlson in the 100 breaststroke (seventh); and Simonson, Eystad, Bateman and Marcus Benson in the 400 freestyle relay (sixth).

Competing in the consolation finals were Zach Fritze (12th) and Huot (16th) in the 100 butterfly; Bateman in the 100 freestyle (14th); Williams in the 500 freestyle (13th); Williams (13th) and Tim Walsh (15th) in the 100 backstroke; and Breitweser in the 100 breaststroke (15th).

Also competing at the section meet were Bateman (20th) and Jack Walsh (tied for 25th) in the 200 freestyle; Huot in the 200 individual medley (17th); Carlson in the 50 freestyle (28th); Eystad (19th) and Tim Walsh (22nd) in the 100 freestyle; and Jack Walsh in the 500 freestyle (23rd).

"We had a great section meet," said Fritze. "You have to give kudos to our boys. We haven't placed that high for a long time."

Park Rapids capped off the season by scoring 18 points and placing 26th at the state Class A meet.

In addition to school records by Marcus Benson in the 100 backstroke and in the 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle relay, Spencer Fritze broke his own school records in diving with 267.15 points for six dives and 460.20 points for 11 dives.

Spencer Fritze was named the Panthers' MVP after leading the team with 378.50 points and taking over the top spots in school history in diving.

Matt Benson was second in points with 373.50 and moved up to the No. 9 spot all-time in the 100 butterfly.

Behrens was third with 339 points and moved up to the No. 3 spot in the 200 individual medley and the No. 7 spot in the 100 butterfly in school history.

Marcus Benson finished fourth with 319.50 points and moved up to the No. 6 spot in the 200 freestyle.

Simonson rounded out the top-five with 317.50 points while moving up on the all-time list in the 100 backstroke (No. 3), 100 freestyle (No. 8) and 200 individual medley (No. 9).

Also contributing at least 100 points this season were Eystad (260.50), Zach Fritze (241.50), Breitweser (207.50), Carlson (195.50), Bateman (178.50), Williams (174.50), Tim Walsh (143.50) and Jack Walsh (140). Breitweser moved up to the No. 4 spot for 11 dives and the No. 8 spot for six dives in school history while Carlson claimed the No. 7 spot in the 100 breaststroke. Williams moved up to the No. 10 spot in the 100 backstroke.

Rounding out this year's varsity were Christenson (99.50 points), Huot (86.50), Dan Walsh (77), Backmann (63), Utke (54.50), Wattenhofer (40), Zinniel (36), Neubauer (32.50), Etter (20), Nichols (16), Hemenway (12), Cempa (1) and Bruce.

Other team awards went to Carlson and Matt Benson (co-Most Dedicated/Hardest Workers), Marcus Benson and Williams (co-Most Improved), and Bateman (Most Spirited).

"This is one of the biggest senior classes we've had and they played a huge part in our success," said Fritze. "We'll need guys to step up and fill those slots, but I'm extremely excited for next year. We have great things to build on. If the guys are willing to work for it and get better, next year could be another special year."

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