Panthers expected state berth
Victoria Lutz epitomized the determination of the Park Rapids girls cross-country team to earn a trip to the state Class A meet.
The lone senior on this year's squad ran every day during the summer in preparation for her final attempt to lead the Panthers to state.
All that training paid off as the Panthers earned their first trip to state as a team since 1998 by finishing second at last Friday's Section 8A meet at Bagley.
"This was my last shot, so it was now or never," said Lutz. "I put in a lot more training over the summer. I had a personal trainer and I gained a lot of belief in my training and in myself. I knew we had a really strong team. All we had to do was believe in ourselves."
"We trained together all season and all that training paid off," said sophomore Lydia Lutz, who entered the section meet ranked No. 8 among all the Class A runners in the state. "We were really hoping to get the team to state for the first time in 11 years. We wanted it really bad."
The Panthers earned their elusive trip to state by tallying 81 points to trail only Perham's 48 points in the 20-team section meet. Perham was the top-rated Class A team in the state all season before dropping to the No. 2 spot this week. Warroad finished third with 107 points and Staples-Motley was fourth with 113 points.
All seven Park Rapids runners - senior Victoria Lutz; juniors Tiffany Deitchler and Sophie Shogren; Lydia Lutz and fellow sophomore Summer Ellefson; and freshmen Morgan Olson and Kaylee Hilmanowski - contributed to the state berth.
Lydia Lutz covered the 4,000-meter course in 16:20 to trail only Perham's Maddie McClellan's winning time of 16:01. Victoria Alexander was third in 16:31 and Staples-Motley's Kaytlin Roth finished fourth in 16:45. Victoria Lutz claimed the No. 5 spot with a time of 16:48. McClellan is the top-rated runner in the state while Alexander is ranked No. 17.
Warroad had four runners finish in the next 11 spots, but Ellefson placed 17th in 17:46, Olson was 27th in 18:18 and Hilmanowski finished 30th in 18:30 to give Park Rapids second place. Deitchler finished 31st in 18:32 and Shogren was 49th in 19:37. Warroad's fifth runner finished in 62nd place.
Despite having to run in a snowstorm, all seven Park Rapids runners had plenty of confidence entering the section meet.
"We were confident, but we weren't overly confident," said Lydia Lutz. "I wanted to go out and stay with Maddie. I felt really good. I was really pumped to get to state."
"I knew it would be close, but we went in with the advantage that we had beat the other teams before," said Victoria Lutz. "My strategy was to go out easy, pick off people slowly and sprint the final 800 meters. The weather would only effect us if we made a big deal out of it. We just had to believe in ourselves and keep pushing hard."
"We're all hard workers, so I knew if we all did our best we could do it," said Ellefson, who competed in her first season of cross-country this fall. "I tried to run it like any other race and stay with the girls I usually run with. I was so mentally prepared to run in that weather. It went really well. I'm excited."
"It was extremely cold, but it was fun at the same time," said Olson. "I just wanted to run hard and run my best. We had a lot of confidence. We knew we could do it."
"Everyone had to run in the same weather, so I just wanted to stick with the same people and do my best," said Hilmanowski, who also joined cross country for the first time this fall. "I'm so excited to go to state in my first year."
"I was really confident. I knew we had the ability to get to state," said Deitchler, who was an individual state qualifier in 2007. "I wanted to keep up with Kaylee, think positive and get through it."
"We showed promise right away and we stayed strong the whole season," said Shogren. "I was confident we could do it. I just wanted to get through the snow as fast as possible."
With the state berth secured, the Panthers are looking to cap off the season by surpassing their state ranking. Park Rapids was rated as high as No. 5 during the season and will enter the state meet ranked No. 11 among the Class A teams.
In front of Park Rapids in state rankings are Waseca, Perham, Adrian, Fairmont, LaCrescent, Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin, Annandale, Blake, Holy Family and St. Cloud Cathedral.
"I'm going to stick with the girls I usually run with and run as if it's just a regular race," said Hilmanowski. "I want to help the team finish higher than where we are ranked right now."
"I'm happy to be going," said Olson. "I'm going to run my own race and hopefully get my PB (personal best)."
"This team really accomplished something (getting to state)," said Deitchler, who finished 69th overall in her state debut in 2007. "I want to run as hard as I can and run my best race."
"I didn't expect us to go to state before the season, but when we did really well and were ranked, I knew we could make it," said Ellefson. "You never know what's going to happen. If we all run our best, we could do really well."
"It would be amazing to finish in the top three and medal," said Shogren. "If we all run our best, I think we could accomplish that."
"I'm not going to be nervous this year. Finishing in the top 15 would be really nice," said Lydia Lutz, who finished 30th in her state debut as an eighth grader in 2007 and 34th last year. "I think the team will do well. We have to be confident in our training and not be nervous. We're going to have fun. We're ready to bring it."
"I'm going to stay with the girls I know in the section and hopefully run better than I did as a freshman. I definitely want to end the year with a PR (personal record)," said Victoria Lutz, who finished 31st in her state debut as a freshman in 2006. "It feels good to be back. Hopefully we can remain calm and confident and not get psyched out. We beat Adrian at the Milaca meet and I want to give Adrian a run for the money. This is my senior year and I'm looking to have fun and make a lot of memories."