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Panthers qualified for state in style

Mandy Schirmers (from left), Katherine Erickson, Ellen Hoffman, Lauren Rossman (alternate), Emily Creager and Allycia Zinke tied a school record by qualifying for the state swimming and diving meet in 10 events.

After competing at last year's state Class A girls swimming meet, senior Mandy Schirmers, senior Allycia Zinke, junior Emily Creager and junior Katherine Erickson were confident they would return to represent Park Rapids at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

Sophomore Ellen Hoffman wasn't as sure about her chances of qualifying for the state meet.

All five had outstanding performances at last Saturday's Section 8A meet at Detroit Lakes by breaking four school records and qualifying for state in 10 events.

Erickson, Schirmers, Zinke and Creager kicked off the finals by winning the 200-yard medley relay in 1:53.85 to break the school record of 1:54.59 set by Katie Gravalin, Beth Morris, Rachel Helm and Aysen Wallace in 1997.

Creager followed by winning the 200 freestyle in 2:04.22 before Schirmers broke the school record in the 200 individual medley with a runner-up 2:16.58. That broke Morris' school record of 2:20.65 set in 1997.

After Hoffman finished fourth in diving with 317.55 points to qualify for state, Zinke advanced with a runner-up 1:04.85 in the 100 butterfly. Creager then earned her second individual state berth with a runner-up 56.60 in the 100 freestyle.

Erickson broke the section and school record in the 500 freestyle with a winning time of 5:24.85. That broke the section record of 5:26.40 set by Fergus Falls' Line Fremstad in 1998 and broke Brandi Werner's school record of 5:32.40 set in 2005. Erickson followed up that performance by qualifying for state in the 100 backstroke with a runner-up time of 1:02.76.

Schirmers earned her second individual trip to state by winning the 100 breaststroke in 1:08.10 before joining Erickson, Zinke and Creager in the 400 freestyle relay, which earned a state berth with a winning time of 3:42.96. That time also broke a school record, eclipsing the 3:47.61 set by Erickson, Leah Meinert, Hannah Williams and Creager last season.

Qualifying for state in 10 events tied a school record. The 2002 team also advanced to state in 10 events.

Relays break school records

Starting and ending the section finals with school records in the relays completed two goals for Erickson, Schirmers, Zinke and Creager.

The medley relay team was in perfect position to qualify for state after clocking a winning time of 1:54.90 during last Friday's preliminaries. The Panthers' splits were 29.31 by Erickson in the backstroke, 32.16 by Schirmers in the breaststroke, 27.89 by Zinke in the butterfly and 25.54 by Creager in the freestyle. That was under the state-cut time of 1:55.51 and was ahead of Fergus Falls' runner-up time of 1:55.54.

"We didn't give it our all. We knew we'd make the top 8. We just wanted to get a solid time and get a good lane for the finals," said Schirmers. "We knew we had a good shot on Saturday."

The Panthers delivered in the finals by breaking the school record and qualifying for state. Erickson led off with a 29.27, Schirmers followed with a 31.11, Zinke clocked a 27.98 and Creager finished with a 25.49. Fergus Falls (1:54.09) and Perham (1:55.29) also met the state time to advance.

"We knew it would be close with Fergus and Perham, but we knew we could drop more time," said Schirmers. "We have been so close (to breaking the record) the last two years. We really wanted it."

"We were so pumped up for the second day," said Erickson. "We all went out as fast as we could. We wanted the record. It's been our goal for the past three years."

"After we saw how close we were (in preliminaries), we really wanted the record," said Zinke.

"We wanted to beat Fergus and Perham and break the record," said Creager. "I thought we'd break it, but I didn't expect us to go that fast."

That foursome took a similar route to win the section title in the 400 freestyle relay.

During preliminaries, Erickson's 57.22 split, Zinke's 57.19 split, Schirmers' 59.18 split and Creager's 59.73 split led to a third-place time of 3:53.32. Bemidji was first in 3:51.90 and Perham was second in 3:52.44.

"We held back the first day," said Erickson. "We wanted to get them (Bemidji and Perham) on the second day."

"We knew we'd make it to the second day," said Creager. "We coasted through the first day, but we really wanted to break the record (in the finals)."

"We took it easy the first day, but we broke loose on Saturday," said Zinke. "Our goal was for all of us to get 55s. I thought we could go that fast."

Led by Erickson's 56.40, Zinke's 55.83, Schirmers' 55.42 and Creager's 55.32, the Panthers won the section title and shattered the school record. Bemidji finished second in 3:46.30 to also meet the cut time of 3:47.65.

"I knew we'd get at least second," said Creager. "Bemidji beat us all year, so I didn't think we'd get first. It was pretty exciting."

"We were really confident and pumped up," said Erickson. "We wanted to kill the record. Our goal time was a 3:44 or a 3:45. We got a 3:42. I didn't expect that."

"We knew Bemidji would be our toughest competition," said Schirmers. "Our goal was to get the record and we crushed it. It was awesome."

All four will be looking to advance to the finals for the first time since the relays haven't been kind to the Panthers the last two seasons.

Erickson, Schirmers and Creager were on the Panthers' medley relay team that finished 19th in 1:56.01 in 2009.

Erickson and Creager swam on the 400 freestyle relay team that finished 18th in 3:51.10 last season.

Erickson, Schirmers and Zinke swam on the 200 medley relay team while Schirmers, Creager and Zinke swam on the 200 freestyle relay team that were both disqualified at state last season.

The Panthers are hoping for better results in the relays this season.

"I think we're going to drop more time," said Zinke. "If we keep our heads, we'll be swimming on Saturday."

"We want to make it to the second day," said Erickson. "If we believe, we can compete with the girls down there and accomplish our goals."

Schirmers returns in four events

After qualifying in four events last season, Schirmers wanted to compete at state in four events to cap off her senior season.

Schirmers accomplished that goal in record fashion.

"My times were a little slower than where I wanted them to be (entering the section meet). I was where I was at last year," said Schirmers. "My goal was to go to state in all four events. I knew this wasn't going to be my last meet. I wasn't nervous at all. I had a lot of adrenaline and I was really relaxed."

That relaxed approach was evident during last Friday's preliminaries when Schirmers clocked a runner-up 2:21.29 in the 200 individual medley and a third-place 1:10.88 in the 100 breaststroke. Bemidji's Steph Frey led the field in the 200 individual medley in 2:13.76 (which easily topped the state-cut time of 2:17.48) while Staples-Motley's Jaelin Beachy (with a winning time of 1:08.37) and Perham's Kelsey Kratzke (with a runner-up 1:10.72) finished ahead of Schirmers in the 100 breaststroke. Both Beachy and Kratzke topped the cut time of 1:10.78.

Schirmers rose to the challenge in the finals by breaking the school record in the 200 individual medley and winning the section title in the 100 breaststroke.

Frey won the section title in the 200 individual medley with a 2:13.95 while Schirmers dropped almost five seconds to claim a state berth with a runner-up 2:16.58.

"I saw Frey ahead of me and I thought there goes first place. But I knew second place was right there," said Schirmers. "I didn't feel any pressure. I just swam my own race."

That's what Schirmers did in the 100 breaststroke as well as the Park Rapids senior defeated both Beachy and Kratzke for the first time this season.

Schirmers led the way with a 1:08.10, which improved on her personal best of 1:10.52, which ranked second in school history behind Morris' 1:06.76. That time also topped Beachy's runner-up 1:08.53 and Kratzke's third-place 1:09.14 as all three qualified for state.

"I knew I was going to get it (the state-cut time)," said Schirmers. "I didn't think I could beat Beachy, but I wanted to beat Kratzke."

Now Schirmers is looking to advance to the state finals. Last year, Schirmers placed 25th in the 200 individual medley in 2:23.93 and 27th in the 100 breaststroke in 1:13.04.

"I want to do better than in the past," said Schirmers. "This is my last high school meet and there is no way that I'm not going to do my best. My goal is to medal in something."

Zinke fulfills goal in 100 butterfly

Zinke also wanted to cap off her senior season with a record-setting section meet.

Even though Zinke did help set two school records in the relays, she was disappointed that she didn't break the school record in the 100 butterfly.

"My personal goal was to get the record in the 100 fly," said Zinke. "I was disappointed I didn't get it, but I have another chance at state."

Zinke came close to claiming the record by clocking a 1:02.85 to take first during preliminaries. That topped her previous best of 1:04.04 set in 2009 and moved her into the No. 2 spot in school history behind Kyja Penning's 1:01.20 and ahead of Julie Benjamin's 1983 time of 1:03.11. Bemidji's Erin Arndt was second during preliminaries with a 1:04.15.

In the finals, Arndt won the section title in 1:03.74 while Zinke claimed the other state berth with a runner-up 1:04.85. Park Rapids' Taylor Graham took third in 1:05.50. The state-qualifying time was a 1:02.10.

"I was ready to break the record. After I took first (in preliminaries), I had a lot of confidence," said Zinke. "I was more worried about what time I was going to get than what place I was going to get. I psyched myself out before the race, but I'm so happy I get to swim my event at state."

Zinke is looking to cap off her high school career by breaking Penning's school record.

"My ultimate goal is to break the school record," said Zinke. "I want to go out with a bang."

Creager returns in freestyle races

Going into the section meet, Creager was a little concerned about whether or not she could return to state in four events.

"My times were not where I wanted them to be," said Creager. "I didn't feel good at all the first day. The second day I did a lot better. I'm happy I made it to state in all four events."

Creager opened the preliminaries by winning the 200 freestyle in 2:04.60. Perham's Rylie Rothmeyer finished second in 2:06.14.

In the 100 freestyle, Frey clocked a winning time of 54.96 to meet the cut time of 55.29 while Creager was second in 56.83. Bemidji's McKenzie Timms was a close third in 56.87.

In the finals, Creager qualified for state by winning the 200 freestyle in 2:04.22. Bemidji's Lexie Hendricks took second in 2:04.72 while Rothmeyer was third in 2:05.27.

"I was hoping to break my record," said Creager, who holds the school record with a 2:01.44 set last season. "I thought I'd do a lot better. I was pretty disappointed with my 2:04, but I still won, which was nice. Maybe I was saving it for state."

Creager was also looking to break the school record in the 100 finals, but was happy to claim the second state berth.

Frey led the field with a winning time of 54.66 while Creager followed in 56.60. Fergus Falls' Taylor Monk (56.73), Timms (56.82) and Perham's Natalie Murphy (56.85) challenged Creager for runner-up honors.

"I knew I wasn't going to win it, but I was hoping to finish second and break the (school) record," said Creager, who is third in school history in this event with a 55.75 set last season. "I was in fourth, but I had a good finish and touched out (Monk, Timms and Murphy). I wanted to go faster than a 56, but I'm happy I made it."

Creager will get another chance to break her own record in the 200 freestyle and move ahead of Caroline Schik's school record of 54.99 and Emma Helfrich's 55.06 in the 100 freestyle. Creager finished 23rd in the 100 freestyle in 56.67 and 27th in the 200 freestyle in 2:03.01 last season.

"I'm hoping to make it to the second day and break both the 100 and 200 records," said Creager.

Erickson breaks section record

After qualifying for state in three events last season, Erickson set a goal of advancing to the state meet in four events this year.

Erickson accomplished that feat in record fashion.

"I wanted to make it to state in all four events," said Erickson. "I wasn't expecting getting three firsts and a second."

At last year's section meet, Erickson took third in the 200 freestyle and was the runner-up in the 100 backstroke.

This year, Erickson moved to the 500 freestyle, which paid off with her first state trip in that event.

During preliminaries, Erickson took it easy and finished fourth with a 5:39.70. Rothmeyer led the way with a 5:34.03 while Perham's Jill Burns (in 5:34.52) and Hendricks (in 5:37.15) followed.

In the finals, Erickson had splits of 28.03, 31.44, 32.12, 33.05, 33.38, 33.49, 33.39, 33.32, 33.44 and 33.19 to top the state cut of 5:28.31, break the section and school record, and advance to state.

"I felt a lot stronger in the freestyle this year," said Erickson, who entered the season in the No. 6 spot in school history with a 5:46.64 and moved ahead of Ashley Wallace (5:41.88), Helm (5:38.28), Meinert (5:38.01), Tavia Schumacher (5:34.42) and Werner into the top spot. "I took it easy (on Friday) and I knew I was going to go faster the second day. I went out fast and kept going. I wasn't getting tired, so I knew I was on the right pace to get a good time. Getting a 5:24 was exciting. I wasn't expecting to get the section record. I would have been happy getting under the state cut."

After qualifying for state in the 500 freestyle, Erickson was confident of getting back to state in the 100 backstroke.

During preliminaries, Erickson met the state cut of 1:03.59 by clocking a winning time of 1:02.13. Fergus Falls' Abby Fisher, the defending section champion, was second in 1:02.93 while Perham's Bailey Meyer was a distant third in 1:07.50.

Fisher defended her title in the finals with a 1:01.30 while Erickson followed in 1:02.76 to return to state.

"I didn't think I'd get the school record. I was too tired from the 500 free," said Erickson, whose 1:01.87 is second behind Werner's school record of 1:00.87. "I was very confident I'd go to state. I just did the best I could."

Erickson entered her third state meet hoping to advance to the finals and break both records. Erickson qualified for state in the 100 backstroke in 2009 (placing 21st in 1:04.81) and last season (placing 18th in 1:03.35).

"I've never made it to the second day, so I'm hoping to make it to the second day in all four events," said Erickson. "I'm ready for state this year."

Hoffman qualifies for first time

At last year's section meet, Hoffman finished in ninth place. Of the eight divers ahead of her, only two were seniors.

Attending a diving camp at the University of Indiana over the summer helped Hoffman improve her skills and earn a state berth.

"The summer camp helped me so much," said Hoffman. "It helped me get over my fears and made diving easier."

Hoffman put herself in position to qualify for state by finishing in fourth place after the first eight preliminary dives. Hoffman received 221.90 points to trail only Detroit Lakes' Kyley Foster (257.60) and Bemidji's Jana Hedstrom (235.95) and Kylei Grosfield (231.75). Fergus Falls' Rachel Appert was fifth with 216.60 points.

In the finals, Hoffman hit all three of her remaining dives to stay in fourth place. Hoffman finished with 317.55 points to easily edge Appert's 301 points for the final state berth. Foster won the section title with 347.05 points while Hedstrom (340.35) and Grosfield (329.60) claimed the other state berths.

"I wasn't expecting it (qualifying for state). I was hoping to finish in the top 6," said Hoffman. "I was really nervous in preliminaries. All eight dives went really well and that gave me a lot of confidence. My last three dives I knew I could do well. I told myself to stay calm and stay consistent. All my dives were consistent and that's what got me in the top 4."

Hoffman entered the state meet hoping for eight consistent dives to earn a spot in the finals.

"At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to go to state in diving. I wanted something high to reach for. It's a good feeling to make it," said Hoffman, whose 193.60 in six dives during the regular season moved her into the No. 5 spot in school history behind Katie Damlo (225.80), Penning (215.55), Kristi Schmitz (212.60) and Kelli Trygstad (207.95). "I hope to do good at state. I'm going to stay relaxed and enjoy the experience."