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Boys track team looks to exceed expectations

Last season, the Park Rapids boys track and field team exceeded expectations by placing second at the Subsection 8-29A meet and qualifying 10 individuals for the Section 8A meet.

This year, head coach Pat Deegan is looking for the Panthers to overachieve once again.

Leading the Panthers this season are the 13 athletes who competed at last year's subsection meet. That group, which tallied 134 points to trail Bagley/Fosston's 145 points at the subsection meet and followed by scoring 19 points for 13th place at the section meet, features seniors Travis Deitchler and Taylor Kimball; juniors Forrest Drury, Brock Fritze, Ryan McBrady, Logan Schmaus, Cole Tretbar and Scott Wolff; sophomores Edger Guajardo, Fred Stinar and Jake Waggoner; and freshmen Austin Carlson and Kurt Fritze. Sophomore Nick Schulz also returns from last year's team.

The Panthers return experience in the relay races. Drury, Brock Fritze and Carlson return in the 4 x 400 relay that placed second in the subsection meet and fifth at the section meet. That relay team also placed third at the Mid-State Conference meet. Brock Fritze and Carlson are back in the 4 x 200 relay that took third at the subsection meet and third at the section meet. That relay team won the Section 6A True Team title and took third at the conference meet. Kimball, Drury and Deitchler are back in the 4 x 800 relay that finished second at the subsection meet and seventh at the section meet. That relay also took third at the conference meet. Kimball, Tretbar and Kurt Fritze ran on the 4 x 100 relay team that placed fifth at the conference meet and sixth at the subsection meet.

Brock Fritze finished sixth in the 100 while Carlson took sixth in the 400 at the Mid-State meet.

Also placing at the subsection meet last season were Kimball in the 1,600 run (third); Deitchler in the 3,200 run (sixth); Drury in the pole vault (first) and 400 (sixth); Brock Fritze in the 100 (fourth); Wolff in the triple jump (sixth), high jump (seventh) and long jump (11th); Carlson in the 400 (fourth) and long jump (ninth); Kurt Fritze in the 300 hurdles (fourth), 200 (13th) and triple jump (14th); Schmaus in the shot put (seventh) and discus (17th); McBrady in the 1,600 (ninth) and 3,200 (ninth); Waggoner in the 1,600 run (10th); Tretbar in the triple jump (11th); Guajardo in the 100 (17th); and Stinar in the discus (20th).

At the section meet, Drury placed eighth in the pole vault, Brock Fritze took 10th in the 100, Kimball placed 12th in the 1,600, Carlson took 14th in the 400 and Kurt Fritze finished 14th in the 300 hurdles.

Looking to contribute points in their first season in track are seniors Kevin Merfeld and Matt Sullivan; juniors Robert Borger, Sam Goebel, Levi Stevenson and Herman Stieng; sophomores Blake Montzka; and freshmen Spencer Adolphson, Caleb Gorder, Isiah Hensel and Jared Kantonen.

That group will be looking to replace last year's senior crew of John Drury, Jake Grimes, AJ Spears and Caleb Atkins. At the subsection meet, Drury took first in the discus, finished third in the shot put, and ran on the 4 x 200 and 4 x 100 relays. Drury placed fourth in the discus and 13th in the shot put at the section meet. Grimes was the subsection champion in the 300 hurdles and runner-up in the 110 hurdles and ran on the 4 x 400 relay team Grimes placed 10th in the 300 hurdles and 12th in the 110 hurdles at the section meet. Spears finished sixth in the 800 and ran on the 4 x 800 relay team at the subsection meet. Atkins placed 15th in the shot put at the subsection meet.

In addition, senior Colin Vaadeland elected not to go out for track this season after earning team Most Valuable honors last season. Vaadeland won subsection titles in the 100 and 200 and took third in the long jump while also running on the 4 x 200 relay team. At the section meet, Vaadeland finished eighth in the 200, ninth in the 100 and 11th in the long jump.

"Right now, the season brings with it a lot of question marks. We have 11 new faces who have little experience and the weather has not really been cooperating to get outside and crank things up to see who can do what," said Deegan, who will be assisted by Greg Kuehn. "Our strengths should be in the sprints and 4 x 200 and 4 x 400 relays. The distance races look like we may be all right. In the field events, we should be able to score a few points in the pole vault, triple jump and shot put. The other field events depend on the athletes developing. We have younger athletes who will hopefully develop throughout the season and contribute toward the end."

Last year, the Panthers got off to a slow start before peaking at the end of the season by claiming runner-up honors in the subsection for the first time since 2006. Deegan is counting on the Panthers to improve during the season and once again peak at the end at the subsection meet at Walker and the section meet at Park Rapids.

"Our conference is tough. My goal is to be competitive and produce our best times of the year and have individuals earn all-conference or all-conference honorable mention honors," said Deegan, whose team placed fifth at last year's conference meet with 45 points. "I believe we could be in the top two teams in the subsection again. If things fall into place, I think we have a chance to win it. My goal for sections is to have someone advance to state."