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Confident Panthers earned state trips

Kaylee Hilmanowski (from left), Lydia Lutz, Shelby Pierce, Summer Ellefson, Abby Mueller, Megan Olson and Lora Remus waited for the start of the Section 8A girls cross-country meet last Friday at Bagley.

The Section 8A meet couldn't have turned out any better for the Park Rapids girls cross-country team and Isaac Overmyer.

After finishing second to the Perham girls the last two years, the Panthers fulfilled a goal by edging the defending champs to capture their first section title since 1997.

Senior Lydia Lutz led the way by winning her first section title while senior Shelby Pierce also earned an individual state berth by finishing ninth. Senior Summer Ellefson (13th), eighth grader Megan Olson (14th) and junior Lora Remus (18th) rounded out Park Rapids' team score of 47 points. Perham finished a close second with 50 points. Eighth grader Abby Mueller (36th) and junior Kaylee Hilmanowski (41st) rounded out the Panthers' seven-member team.

Overmyer also fulfilled a goal by capping off his freshman season by earning his first state berth by placing fifth.

The Park Rapids girls will compete in the state Class A meet today (Saturday) at 1 p.m. while Overmyer will run at 2 p.m. at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

Girls fulfill goal with section title

All seven members of the Park Rapids girls cross-country team were confident of returning to state for the third year in a row.

Defeating Perham and winning the section title after two runner-up finishes was the driving force behind another trip to state.

Even though the lead driver at last Friday's Section 8A meet at Bagley made a wrong turn early in the race, the Panthers maintained their composure to claim the championship trophy.

Lutz led the pack with a winning time of 15 minutes, 23 seconds on a course that turned out to be a little more than 4,000 meters. Perham's Sydney Karels was fifth and Cassie Beseman finished seventh before Pierce clocked a 16:23 for ninth place.

Perham's Brynnan Covington was next in 11th place, but the Panthers used Ellefson's 16:40 and Olson's 16:41 to finish 13th and 14th. Perham's Lizzie Fudge finished 15th, but Remus' time of 16:53 was good for 18th place as the Panthers edged Perham for the fourth time in five meets this season. Ciarrin Covington completed Perham's team score by finishing in 21st place.

Perham won the section title in 2009 with 48 points while the Panthers were second with 81 points. Last year, Perham repeated as section champs with 84 points while Park Rapids followed with 102 points.

The Panthers were determined to end that trend this season.

Park Rapids edged Perham at the Moorhead Invitational (127 to 131) and lost to Perham at the Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational (49 to 42). The Panthers then won the next two meetings late in the season, topping Perham 97 to 112 at the Perham Invitational and 61 to 62 at the Park Rapids Invitational.

All seven Park Rapids runners expected another close meet last Friday at Bagley.

"I knew we'd be either first or second. I wanted to beat Perham really bad," said Lutz, who became the Panthers' first section champion since Debbie Thompson won titles in 2001 and 2003. "I really wanted us to be section champs. It's a big accomplishment to win it."

"I thought we were going to rock it," said Pierce. "This team has been going really good all year. We wanted it really bad. Everyone had a positive attitude and I expected a positive outcome."

"I was pretty sure we'd get in the top two and qualify. It was iffy whether we'd win it," said Ellefson. "It was very important to beat them. We'd beat them all season and it would have been disappointing to finish behind them."

"I thought we had a very good chance to get to state," said Olson. "Even though we beat Perham all year, it was iffy if we'd beat them. It's awesome."

"I was pretty confident we'd go to state," said Remus. "Our eye was on Perham. We wanted to beat them really bad. We beat them all year, but it was by a close margin. I was hoping we'd do it again."

"I knew for sure we'd get at least second. We really wanted to get first," said Hilmanowski. "We wanted to beat them so bad. They beat us the last two years. It felt so much better taking first."

"I was confident we'd get to state," said Mueller. "We really wanted to beat Perham."

It was the three seniors who set the pace.

Lutz, who was the section runner-up the last three seasons, ended her high school career with her first section title. Pierce earned her first individual state berth after helping the Panthers qualify for state in her first cross-country season last year. Ellefson just missed her goal of earning an individual state berth, but played a key role in getting the Panthers back to state after not competing in cross-country last season.

"When the cart went the wrong way, it kind of messed with my mind. I thought I was running at the wrong pace," said Lutz. "I've always wanted to win it. I've always finished second, so I figured my senior year is the time to win it."

"I wanted to stick with Perham's No. 1 girl and I stayed with her," said Shelby. "The course got messed up and that threw me off. I wasn't happy with my time, but I was happy with my place. I wanted to finish in the top 10 and I got ninth, so I'm happy with that."

"I wanted to keep Shelby in my sights and I stayed about 100 meters behind her," said Ellefson. "I'm pretty happy. I wanted to be in the top 10, but I was close enough. I'm fine with that."

The section title gave the Panthers their seventh state trip in the history of the girls cross-country program. Park Rapids tied for sixth place in 1976 and finished eighth in 1977. The Panthers finished 14th in 1997 and 16th in 1998 before having their best state showing by taking fifth in 2009 with 190 points. Park Rapids finished 15th with 334 points last season.

This year's team has plenty of state experience with Lutz, Ellefson and Hilmanowski back from the 2009 team and Lutz, Pierce, Hilmanowski and Remus back from last year's team.

In 2009, Lutz finished 20th in 15:50, Ellefson was 75th in 16:39 and Hilmanowski was 96th in 16:56 out of 159 runners. Last year, Lutz finished 26th in 15:42, Pierce was 121st in 17:07, Hilmanowski was 126th in 17:19 and Remus was 139th in 17:37 out of 153 runners. Lutz also finished 34th in 2008 in 15:36 and 30th in 2007 in 15:47 as an individual qualifier. Olson and Mueller will be making their state debuts.

Ten of last year's 16 teams returned to state. Adrian is attempting to defend its title while St. Cloud Cathedral enters as the top-ranked team in the state. Park Rapids enters rated No. 11 while Perham is ranked No. 12.

"I don't want to go out too fast. I want to run a smart race and place in the top 10," said Lutz, who enters state ranked No. 6 in the latest state Class A poll after finishing first in six of 10 meets this season. "I hope everyone has their best race. If we do that, we should place pretty high."

"I'm hoping to do better than last year," said Pierce. "I'd like to be in the top 25 and I hope the team finishes in the top 5."

"It's going to be tough, but I hope to be in the top 40," said Ellefson. "It'd be sweet to beat Perham at state. I hope we finish in the top 5."

"I'm going to try and beat Summer and I hope we beat Perham again," said Olson.

"I just want to run the best I can," said Remus. "I'm hoping we beat Perham again."

"I'm going to stay with Kaylee and hope to run around a 17:30," said Mueller. "I hope we beat Perham again."

"I'm hoping we beat Perham again and finish in the top 5," said Hilmanowski.

Overmyer earns first state berth

After placing 16th in his section debut last season, Overmyer entered this season with plenty of confidence of earning a state berth.

Of the 15 runners who finished ahead of him, six were seniors. In addition, placing in the top 6 in four of the first six meets this season gave Overmyer even more confidence.

Ending the season by winning the Mid-State Conference title and placing ninth at the Park Rapids Invitational in the final tune-up for the section meet gave Overmyer that final boost of confidence.

"I was pretty confident," said Overmyer. "The last home meet was good for me. I finished ninth, but I felt like I had a bad race. I was pretty confident I would do better than that."

Overmyer did do better than that. Nevis' Bryon Schuldt won his third straight section title by covering the 5,000-meter course in 16:06. Perham's Brady Speicher was second at 16:19, followed by Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton's Tyler Hennen in 16:35 and Perham's Jayden Cullen in 16:46. Speicher and Hennen also qualified as individuals last season.

Overmyer, who clocked a 17:45 at Bagley during the season, was fifth in 16:48 to become the first member of the Park Rapids boys cross-country team to qualify for state since Ellis Peterson in 2002-2004.

"Perham has a lot of experienced runners and they run in a pack. I wanted to keep them close," said Overmyer. "The hardest challenge was not to go out too fast. I was right on pace after the first mile. I still had a lot of people to catch, so I picked up the pace. By the second mile I was in the top 10 and I was able to pass some more people in the final 800 meters. I'm very happy with how I did."

Schuldt is favored to contend for the state title. Schuldt finished sixth at last year's state meet and enters state rated No. 9. Blake's Brandon Clark is the top-rated runner after finishing fourth last season and St. James' Johnathan Surber returns after placing fifth last year.

Overmyer is looking to have another solid race in his state debut.

"I'm hoping to finish in the top 50," said Overmyer. "Finishing in the top 30 would be cool. I just want to run a good race. I'd be happy with that."