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Lutz, Pierce lead way as Park Rapids claims section title

The Park Rapids girls cross-country team qualified for the state Class A meet by capturing the Section 8A title at Bagley Friday. Leading the Panthers to their first section title since 1997 were (front from left) Summer Ellefson, Lydia Lutz, Shelby Pierce; (back) Kaylee Hilmanowski, Megan Olson, Lora Remus, Abby Mueller, Maya Johnson, Morgan Olson, coach Kerry Johnson.

Earning a trip to the state Class A meet for the third year in a row was a sweet accomplishment for the Park Rapids girls cross-country team.

Edging Perham to win the Section 8A title Friday at Bagley's Twin Pines Golf Course made the state berth even sweeter.

The Panthers, who finished behind Perham at the last two section meets, captured their first Section 8A title since 1997 with 47 points. Perham finished second with 50 points to earn its eighth consecutive trip to state.

Lydia Lutz capped off her senior season by winning her first section title with a time of 15 minutes, 23 seconds on the 4,000-meter course. Lutz, who is rated No. 6 in the latest state Class A poll, earned her fifth straight state berth and became the first Park Rapids runner to win a section title since Debbie Thompson in 2001 and 2003. Lutz finished second the last three years.

Senior Shelby Pierce earned her first individual state berth by placing ninth in 16:23. Neither runner was fazed when the lead cart took the wrong route early in the race, forcing runners to criss-cross near the finish line.

"I felt good about Lydia's chances. She has been stronger this year than I have ever seen her. She ran a great race. The lead cart had some troubles, but Lydia didn't let that stop her. She kept her mental toughness and really blew away the competition," said Park Rapids head coach Kerry Johnson. "Shelby was determined to advance to state as an individual. I knew she could do it. She worked so hard this last summer. She really deserves to go."

The key to the Panthers' first section title in 14 years was the finish of the next three runners.

Senior Summer Ellefson clocked a 16:40 for 13th place and eighth-grader Megan Olson followed in 14th place in 16:41. Junior Lora Remus rounded out the Panthers' team score by finishing 18th in 16:53. Abby Mueller finished 36th in 17:50 and Kaylee Hilmanowski was 41st in 18:04 to complete Park Rapids' team. In comparison, Perham's runners finished fifth, seventh, 11th, 15th and 21st.

"I thought the girls had a great chance to go to state, but I would never take that for granted. Strange things can happen in races, and until all the results are in, nothing is guaranteed," said Johnson. "As far as winning the section, I knew that would be close. Edging Perham took some great runs. The girls' looks as they came into the straightaway before the finish were so determined. They all got up on their toes, pumped their arms and cruised into the chute. They passed people right at the end. They were so focused. It took a whole team effort to beat a team like Perham. I am just so happy for the girls. They have worked so hard."

United North Central finished seventh with 175 points. Leading the Warriors were Anna Olson (29th in 17:29), Joy Haataja (32nd in 17:40), Kayla Hodgen (44th in 18:11), Jill Isaacson (46th in 18:13) and Andrea Korvela (48th in 18:17).

Jordan Walters (82nd in 20:26) and Mattie Hjelseth (93rd in 21:18) competed for Nevis.

The Panthers will be making their seventh appearance at the state meet, which will be held Saturday at St. Olaf College in Northfield. Park Rapids tied for sixth in 1976 and finished eighth in 1977, 14th in 1997, 16th in 1998, fifth in 2009 and 15th last year.

Park Rapids enters the state meet rated No. 11 in the latest state poll while Perham is rated No. 12. St. Cloud Cathedral enters as the No. 1-ranked Class A team in the state.

"I know those section qualifiers will be gunning for Lydia at state. I just want her to run the race I know she's capable of and she will do well. I think Shelby will do well at state. She just needs to run her own race and not get caught up in the craziness of the meet," said Johnson. "This team is going to meet some very tough competition at state. We competed against some of those same teams at Milaca. I think if the girls run like they did at sections, they could show some of those teams a thing or two."

Team scores: Park Rapids 47, Perham 50, Warroad 89, Pequot Lakes 121, Roseau 161, Staples-Motley 174, United North Central 175, Wadena-Deer Creek 201, Pillager 232, Trek North 255, Pine River-Backus 302, Stephen-Argyle 318, Frazee 329. Incomplete teams: Lake of the Woods, Bagley/Fosston, Hawley/Ulen-Hitterdal, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, Lake Park-Audubon, East Grand Forks, Indus, Nevis.

Individual results

1, Lydia Lutz, PR, 15:23. 2, Gretta Brunelle, Warroad, 15:47. 3, Victoria Alexander, LOW, 15:53. 4, Emma Schmitz, W-DC, 16:02. 5, Sydney Karels, Perham, 16:02. 6, Madeline Huglen, Roseau, 16:09. 7, Cassie Beseman, Perham, 16:15. 8, Marissa Carlson, BF, 16:19. 9, Shelby Pierce, PR, 16:23. 10, Susy Heppner, Warroad, 16:26. 13, Summer Ellefson, PR, 16:40. 14, Megan Olson, PR, 16:41. 18, Lora Remus, PR, 16:53. 29, Anna Olson, UNC, 17:29. 32, Joy Haataja, UNC, 17:40. 36, Abby Mueller, PR, 17:50. 41, Kaylee Hilmanowski, PR, 18:04. 44, Kayla Hodgen, UNC, 18:11. 46, Jill Isaacson, UNC, 18:13. 48, Andrea Korvela, UNC, 18:17. 57, Madi Lausten, UNC, 18:42. 60, Emily Keranen, UNC, 18:46. 82, Jordan Walters, Nevis, 20:26. 93, Mattie Hjelseth, Nevis, 21:18.