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Panthers run to successful seasons

Lydia Lutz was named the Park Rapids girls cross-country team's MVP after winning her third straight Mid-State Conference title, qualifying for her fifth straight state Class A meet and earning all-state honors by placing sixth at the state meet.1 / 2
Isaac Overmyer was named the Park Rapids boys cross-country team's MVP after qualifying for the state Class A meet for the first time.2 / 2

Kerry Johnson's ultimate goal for the Park Rapids boys and girls cross-country teams this season was to send both teams to the state Class A meet.

Even though both teams didn't advance to state, Johnson received the next best thing when the girls qualified for state for the third year in a row and the boys sent an individual to state for the first time since 2004.

Senior Lydia Lutz led the Panthers by earning all-state honors after placing sixth in her fifth and final state meet. That helped the Panthers tie for 11th place at state with 247 points.

Freshman Isaac Overmyer became the first member of the Park Rapids boys cross-country team to qualify for state since 2004. Overmyer just missed earning all-state honors by placing 26th in his state debut.

The girls won five titles, including the Mid-State Conference title, during the season while the boys duplicated last year's feat by finishing third at the Mid-State Conference meet and fourth at the Section 8A meet.

In addition to excelling on the course, the Panthers excelled in the classroom as both the boys and girls teams received state Gold Academic Awards for having team GPAs between 3.75 and 4.00. Both teams also won this award last year.

"It was a great season," said Johnson. "I hope those who made it (to state) this year will remember how excited they were to make it and that they will need to work even harder next year. I also hope the runners who didn't advance will remember how badly they wanted it this year. I hope that will be enough to push everyone out the door to run because that is where state dreams are made. They aren't made at a section meet; they are made in the summer when runners put on the miles."

Girls fulfill high expectations

Returning to the state meet fulfilled the main goal for the Park Rapids girls. Advancing to state as the Section 8A champions made it even sweeter.

Park Rapids and Perham were expected to claim the two state berths. Those two teams battled all season.

The Panthers entered the season rated No. 9 in the Class A pre-season poll and opened the season by finishing fifth at the nine-team Moorhead Invitational with 127 points. Moorhead took first with 41 points.

At the 10-team Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational, the Panthers finished third with 49 points. Little Falls was first with 39 points. Park Rapids was rated No. 8 in the state after that meet.

Park Rapids almost had a perfect score in winning the title at the eight-team Pelican Rapids Invitational. The Panthers led the field with 19 points in that meet.

The Panthers followed by taking first at the 18-team Bagley/Fosston Invitational with 63 points. Park Rapids was rated No. 10 in the state after that meet.

At the Milaca Mega Meet, the Panthers finished sixth out of 30 teams with 195 points. St. Cloud Cathedral took first with 55 points as the Panthers dropped to No. 15 in the state after that meet.

Park Rapids finished third at the 14-team Fergus Falls Invitational with 97 points. Alexandria led the way with 48 points.

At the Perham Invitational, the Panthers finished third out of 15 teams with 97 points. Moorhead took first with 36 points. Park Rapids moved up to the No. 11 spot in the state poll following that meet.

The Panthers ended the season in style by taking first in the next three meets.

Lutz won her third consecutive Mid-State Conference title as the Panthers claimed the conference championship with 43 points. Detroit Lakes finished second with 68 points.

At the Park Rapids Invitational, the Panthers led the 19-team field with 61 points. Perham was right behind with 62 points. The Panthers stayed in the No. 11 spot in the state poll.

Another solid team effort led the Panthers to their first section title since 1997. Lutz captured her first section title as the Panthers won the section title with 47 points. Perham was second with 50 points.

The Panthers ended the season by sharing 11th place at the state meet with 247 points. St. Cloud Cathedral won the state title with 94 points. Park Rapids finished 15th with 334 points last season and finished fifth with 190 points in 2009.

"As far as the girls, their season really couldn't have gone any better. They lived up to my expectations because they worked hard and continued to improve all season. That is what I want most," said Johnson. "As a team to win sections was really exciting. That was a total team effort. I knew we had a good chance to advance to state, but since I don't take anything for granted, I wasn't sure until the final points were tallied. I was so excited for them."

While Lutz led the way as the Panthers' No. 1 runner all season, seniors Shelby Pierce and Summer Ellefson, juniors Lora Remus, Kaylee Hilmanowski and Morgan Olson; and eighth graders Megan Olson, Abby Mueller and Maya Johnson all contributed to the Panthers' success.

Lutz capped off her senior season by placing in the top 6 at every meet and earning the No. 6 ranking in the state poll at the end of the season. Lutz, who was named the team's Most Valuable Runner and earned all-state academic honors, was consistent all season by winning titles at Wadena, Pelican Rapids, Bagley and Park Rapids and claiming the Mid-State title for the third year in a row. Lutz also finished third at Perham, fourth at Moorhead and fifth at Milaca and Fergus Falls. Lutz was the section runner-up the last three seasons before becoming the Panthers' first section champion since Debbie Thompson won titles in 2001 and 2003. Lutz capped off her high school career by earning all-state honors. Lutz finished 26th last year, 20th in 2009, 34th in 2008 and 30th in 2007 in her other state appearances.

Pierce and Ellefson alternated as the team's No. 2 and No. 3 runners all season. Pierce also earned all-state academic honors.

Pierce had five top-10 finishes this season by placing third at Pelican Rapids, fourth at Wadena and seventh at Park Rapids while earning all-conference honors by finishing eighth at the Mid-State meet and earning all-section honors by placing ninth at the section meet to earn her first individual state berth. Pierce also finished 14th at Fergus Falls, 15th at Bagley and Perham, 19th at Moorhead and 49th at Milaca. Pierce capped off her senior season by placing 69th at the state meet after placing 121st last season. Pierce was named the Panthers' Most Improved Runner.

Ellefson returned to the team after sitting out last season and had four top-10 showings by finishing fourth at Pelican Rapids, eighth to earn all-conference honors at the Mid-State meet and ninth at Wadena and Bagley. Ellefson also finished 15th at Park Rapids, 16th at Fergus Falls, 19th at Perham, 29th at Moorhead and 41st at Milaca before finishing 13th at the section meet. Ellefson capped off her high school career by finishing 109th at state after placing 75th in 2009.

Megan Olson and Remus held the No. 4 and No. 5 spots all season.

Olson ended the season in the No. 4 spot by earning all-conference honors by placing 10th at the Mid-State meet and finishing 14th at the section meet. Olson also finished sixth at Pelican Rapids, 21st at Wadena and Bagley, 26th at Park Rapids, 32nd at Fergus Falls and Perham, 40th at Moorhead and 58th at Milaca. Olson finished 99th as the Panthers' No. 3 runner in her state debut and earned the team's Rookie of the Year honor.

Remus was the Panthers' No. 4 runner by placing fifth at Pelican Rapids, 20th at Wadena and 35th at Moorhead before finishing 26th at Bagley, 35th at Fergus Falls, 38th at Perham and 66th at Milaca. Remus ended the season by finishing 19th at the Mid-State meet, 25th at Park Rapids and 18th at the section meet. Remus finished 125th at state after placing 139th in her state debut last season. Remus was named the Panthers' Most Spirited Runner.

Hilmanowski, Mueller, Morgan Olson and Johnson rounded out the varsity lineup.

Hilmanowski finished 12th at Pelican Rapids, 22nd at Wadena, 34th at Bagley, 46th at Moorhead, 51st at Fergus Falls, 58th at Perham and 90th at Milaca before ending the season by placing 28th at the Mid-State meet and 41st at the section meet. Hilmanowski was the Panthers' No. 6 runner at state by finishing 133rd after placing 126th last year and 96th in 2009. Hilmanowski was named the team's Hardest Worker.

Mueller earned the team's No. 6 spot late in the season and finished 26th at the conference meet, 44th at Park Rapids and 36th in her section debut. Mueller also finished 31st at Bagley and 65th at Perham before ending the season by placing 135th in her state debut.

Morgan Olson battled injuries all season and competed in five varsity races, placing 13th at Pelican Rapids, 30th at Wadena, 56th at Moorhead, 65th at Fergus Falls and 129th at Milaca.

Johnson competed on varsity at the Park Rapids Invitational, placing 51st in her first season in cross country.

Sophomore Alex Pederson, who was the Panthers' No. 2 runner last season, missed the entire season because of a knee injury.

"The seniors will be so hard to replace. It is hard to replace runners who often finish in the top of each meet. Looking at Lydia, it's hard to replace a 1. She has been such a hard worker all these years and I think that helps motivate the younger runners. Shelby has made a huge impact in only her second year. She ran so much this summer and it showed. She was our No. 2 runner this year, which was such an improvement over the previous year. Summer is another hard worker who leads by example. She works day in and day out and has been a positive influence on the younger runners. I will miss all of these girls so much," said Johnson. "I was really thankful that we got through our season without too many injuries besides Alex. Losing Alex was disappointing, but I hope she will be strong next year. Morgan was also dealing with injuries and I hope she gets stronger for next year. My 2012 expectations are to hopefully get some new runners to join the team and for Alex to heal and be able to run again. I think if the girls run a great deal this summer, they will be able to do great things. It really comes down to how badly they want it."

Boys continue to improve

After placing fourth at last year's section meet, Johnson was hoping they would move up this year and contend for a state berth.

Even though they fell short of that goal, Johnson was pleased with their season.

Having 16 runners compete for the seven varsity spots provided positive competition.

The Panthers opened the season by placing ninth at the 10-team Moorhead Invitational with 225 points. Moorhead took first with 28 points.

After finishing sixth at the 11-team Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational, the Panthers earned runner-up honors at the eight-team Pelican Rapids Invitational and finished fifth at the 20-team Bagley/Fosston Invitational. Perham won the title at Wadena with 24 points, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton led the field at Pelican Rapids with 38 points and Thief River Falls took first at Bagley with 45 points.

At the 29-team Milaca Mega Meet, the Panthers finished 19th with 500 points while St. Cloud Cathedral was first with 51 points.

Bemidji won the title at the 13-team Fergus Falls Invitational with 52 points while the Panthers finished ninth with 215 points.

At the 18-team Perham Invitational, Moorhead took first with 20 points while Park Rapids finished eighth with 206 points.

Park Rapids tied for third place at the Mid-State Conference meet with 108 points as Detroit Lakes claimed the title with 40 points.

Perham topped the field at the 19-team Park Rapids Invitational with 25 points while the Panthers tied for fifth place with 165 points.

The Panthers ended the season by placing fourth at the section meet with 131 points. Perham repeated as section champs with 26 points while D-G-F claimed runner-up honors in this 19-team meet with 66 points. Staples-Motley took third with 118 points.

"I thought the boys had a really good year. If I could have taken this team to 2010 sections, they could have advanced to state," said Johnson. "However, some other teams improved and had new runners and that is what held us back."

The highlight of the season for the boys was having Overmyer qualify for state. Overmyer was the Panthers' No. 1 runner all season and earned the team's Most Valuable Runner honor. Overmyer had seven top-10 showings, including winning the Mid-State Conference title to become the Panthers' first conference champion since Dane Larson in 1995. Overmyer also was the runner-up at Pelican Rapids, finished fifth at Bagley, took sixth at Wadena and Fergus Falls, finished ninth at Park Rapids, was 20th at Moorhead and placed 23rd at Perham. Overmyer capped off the season by earning all-section honors by placing fifth and advancing to state, where he finished 26th in his debut.

Also playing key roles to the Panther' success were senior Ryan McBrady; juniors Jake Waggoner, Tanner Otterness, Jacob Hays and Nate Carlson; and sophomores Bailey Mueller, Brad Eischens and Austin Carlson.

Waggoner, Mueller, Otterness and McBrady completed the Panthers' team score most of the season.

Waggoner was the Panthers' No. 2 runner at Pelican Rapids (placing seventh), Bagley (placing 21st), Perham (placing 43rd) and at the Mid-State meet (placing 21st) and ended the season as the No. 2 runner at the section meet by placing 31st overall. Waggoner was the team's No. 3 runner at Moorhead (placing 52nd), Fergus Falls (placing 46th) and Park Rapids (placing 38th) while also finishing 35th at Wadena and 60th at Milaca. Waggoner was voted one of the team's Hardest Workers.

Mueller was the Panthers' No. 2 runner at Moorhead (placing 42nd), Wadena (placing 31st), Fergus Falls (placing 40th) and Park Rapids (placing 34th) and was the team's No. 3 runner at Pelican Rapids (placing ninth), Bagley (placing 26th), Perham (placing 44th) and the conference meet (placing 22nd) before finishing 33rd at the section meet.

Otterness capped off the season as the team's No. 3 runner by placing 32nd at the section meet. Otterness was also the Panthers' No. 3 runner at Wadena (placing 32nd) and was the No. 4 runner at Moorhead (placing 55th), Bagley (placing 33rd), Fergus Falls (placing 58th), Perham (placing 47th), the Mid-State meet (placing 28th) and Park Rapids (placing 39th). Otterness also finished 17th at Pelican Rapids and 96th at Milaca.

McBrady ended the season as the Panthers' No. 5 runner by placing 66th at Fergus Falls, 56th at Perham, 36th at the conference meet, 53rd at Park Rapids and 39th at the section meet. McBrady also finished 58th at Moorhead, 36th at Wadena, 14th at Pelican Rapids and 130th at Milaca.

Eischens was named the Panthers' Rookie of the Year after finishing 57th as the No. 5 runner at Bagley, 60th as the No. 6 runner at Perham, 42nd as the No. 6 runner at the conference meet, 66th as the No. 6 runner at Park Rapids and 73rd as the No. 7 runner at the section meet. Eischens also placed 31st as the No. 7 runner at Pelican Rapids.

Hays was the Panthers' No. 3 runner at Milaca by placing 118th, the No. 6 runner at Wadena (placing 45th), Bagley (placing 62nd) and the section meet (placing 59th), and the team's No. 7 runner at Moorhead (placing 59th), Fergus Falls (placing 76th), Perham (placing 68th) and the conference meet (placing 47th). Hays shared the team's Hardest Worker award.

Nate Carlson competed in five varsity meets while Austin Carlson competed in two varsity meets and served as the alternates on the section meet. Nate Carlson was the No. 4 runner at Milaca (finishing 125th), the No. 5 runner at Moorhead (placing 56th), the No. 6 runner at Pelican Rapids (finishing 27th) and Fergus Falls (finishing 71st), and the No. 7 runner at Bagley (placing 65th) while Austin Carlson was the team's No. 7 runner at Wadena (placing 46th) and Park Rapids (finishing 70th).

Competing on the junior varsity were juniors Ben Kading and Nick Schulz and sophomores Cody Brumbaugh, Aaron Holk and Nathanael Rairdon. Brumbaugh was voted the team's Most Spirited Runner while Rairdon was named the Most Improved Runner.

"It was exciting to have a boy qualify this year. Isaac worked so hard and he truly led by example. I think that will give the rest of the guys even more drive to get to state themselves," said Johnson. "Ryan really worked hard this year and improved so much. I was happy he had his fastest race at sections. He really deserved it. He was the No. 5 runner, so he will be missed. In a team sport like cross country, the No. 5 runner can make or break a team. This was a great bunch to work with. They work hard and are so driven. I really hope the guys can stay healthy, work hard and do better at sections next year. I hope this summer they all run a bunch and get even faster and stronger. The cross-country season starts as soon as school is out. If they hope to make up some distance, they need to start the process in June. August is too late. In order to continue to compete, the runners need to run and lift. I hope they all motivate each other to do that."