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Swimmers looking to build from '08 success

Todd Fritze called last season one of the biggest turnarounds in the history of the Park Rapids girls swimming and diving program.

The Park Rapids head coach is counting on the Panthers to build off last year's success.

After going 3-5 in dual meets and placing fifth at the Section 8A meet with 204 points in 2007, the Panthers went 6-1-1 in dual meets and scored 249 points for fifth place at the section meet last fall. Kyja Penning capped off the season by finishing eighth at the state Class A meet to become the first diver in school history to earn a state medal.

With almost the entire team back plus the addition of some promising seventh graders, Fritze is counting on the Panthers to produce another successful season.

"We have pretty high expectations, as usual," said Fritze. "We surprised a lot of people last year. The girls are driven to bring Park Rapids swimming back to where it should be."

Leading the Panthers this season will be the returning varsity and junior varsity swimmers and divers: seniors Penning and Abby Hanson; juniors Melissa Haas, Leah Meinert and Taylor Ondracek; sophomores Mandy Schirmers and Allycia Zinke; freshmen Jessica Andersen, Emily Creager, Katherine Erickson, Heather Kniss and Hannah Williams; and eighth graders Siri Erickson, Taylor Graham, Ellen Hoffman, Christina Mackley and Alex Pederson. Senior Nicole Knott will miss the season because of a shoulder injury.

Penning placed second in diving to earn all-section honors while nine swimmers received all-section honorable mention honors. Ondracek, Schirmers, Penning and Zinke placed third in the 200-yard medley relay. Creager, Meinert, Katherine Erickson and Zinke placed fifth in the 400 freestyle relay. Penning, Ondracek, Creager, Meinert and Williams combined to finish sixth in the 200 freestyle relay. Ondracek finished fourth in the 100 backstroke. Penning took fifth in the 100 butterfly. Schirmers placed sixth in the 100 breaststroke. Creager was sixth in the 200 freestyle. Haas finished eighth in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke. Meinert finished eighth in the 500 freestyle.

The Panthers also had eight individuals earn all-conference honors. Penning, Ondracek, Creager and Meinert won the 200 freestyle relay to earn all-conference honors. The list of all-conference honorable mention swimmers were Ondracek, Schirmers, Penning and Zinke in the 200 medley relay; Creager in the 200 freestyle; Penning in diving and the 100 butterfly; Ondracek and Katherine Erickson in the 100 backstroke; and Meinert, Creager, Erickson and Zinke in the 400 freestyle relay. Park Rapids finished third as a team at the conference meet.

In addition to placing at state, Penning broke the school record in the 100 butterfly with a 1:02.97. Julie Benjamin held the previous record of 1:03.11 set in 1983. Penning was named the Panthers' Most Valuable after leading the team with 370.25 points and moving up to the No. 3 spot on the school's all-time list in diving with 209.55 points.

Schirmers was second on the team in points with 273 and placed ninth in the 200 individual medley at the section meet.

Meinert finished third in points with 271.25 and moved up to the No. 8 spot on the Panthers' all-time list in the 500 freestyle with a 5:51.62. Meinert also placed 17th in the 200 freestyle at the section meet.

Creager placed 11th in the 100 freestyle at the section meet and finished the season with 241.75 points.

Ondracek was fifth in points with 239 and climbed to the No. 6 spot in school history in the 100 backstroke with a 1:05.92.

Katherine Erickson compiled 209.50 points, including a pair of ninth-place finishes in the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke at the section meet.

Zinke placed 14th in the 100 freestyle at the section meet and ended the season with 205.75 points.

Haas tallied 176.50 points last season.

Williams finished 12th in the 50 freestyle and 17th in the 500 freestyle at the section meet and was 10th in team points with 114.50.

Hanson finished 14th in the 100 butterfly and 20th in the 200 individual medley at the section meet to end the season with 96.50 points.

Andersen had 42 points and finished 15th in her section debut in diving.

Kniss compiled 41 points and placed 17th in her section diving debut.

Also scoring points on the varsity last season were Hoffman (36.50), Graham (30.50), Mackley (24), Pederson (19.50) and Siri Erickson (15.50).

Providing depth for the Panthers this season will be freshman Elizabeth Nichols and seventh graders Emily Eystad, Jessie O'Hern, Danielle Lockrem and Lauren Rossman.

"We're going to be a well-balanced team. Quite a few girls put in some work in the summer and that's going to pay off for sure," said Fritze, who will be assisted by Amie Westberg and Kristi Goochey. "We're on the right path, but we still have a lot of work to do."

With more depth and another year of experience, Fritze is confident the Panthers will win the conference title, move up in the section standings and qualify more than one person for the state meet.

"I'm excited about the season. The girls did extremely well at the section meet last year and hopefully we can start off from where we left off," said Fritze. "I expect big things this year. I think we're going to surprise a lot of people again this year. The only people we're not going to surprise are ourselves."