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Panthers back up expectations by qualifying for state meet

Park Rapids' Megan Grimes (from left), Heidi Lageson, Shelby Pierce, Lydia Lutz, Forrest Drury, Austin Carlson, Summer Ellefson, Isaac Overmyer, Grace Bateman, Jenna Polley, Sarah Harshman, Mady Vaudrin and Hannah Gorder will be looking to bring home medals from the state Class A track and field meet.

Both the Park Rapids girls and boys track and field teams had high expectations entering last Saturday's Section 8A meet at East Grand Forks.

The Panthers entered the section meet with 13 athletes favored to qualify for state in 12 events. That group handled the pressure and ended up qualifying for state in 13 events.

Seniors Forrest Drury, Summer Ellefson, Lydia Lutz, Shelby Pierce and Jenna Polley; junior Grace Bateman; sophomores Austin Carlson and Mady Vaudrin; freshmen Megan Grimes, Isaac Overmyer and Hannah Gorder; and eighth graders Heidi Lageson and Sarah Harshman all fulfilled their mission by advancing to the state Class A meet, which concludes today (Saturday) at Hamline University in St. Paul.

The Park Rapids girls team made school history by qualifying for state in all four relays. Lageson, Lutz, Ellefson and Pierce led off the meet by winning the 4 x 800 relay. Harshman, Grimes, Bateman and Vaudrin followed by winning the 4 x 200 relay. Harshman, Polley, Gorder and Vaudrin then took first in the 4 x 100 relay. Bateman, Grimes, Pierce and Ellefson capped off the meet by winning the 4 x 400 relay.

In addition, the girls had five individual qualifiers as Grimes took first in the high jump, Bateman took first in the 300 hurdles, Lutz won the 3,200, Ellefson was the runner-up in the 400 and Pierce was the runner-up in the 800.

For the boys, Carlson won the 400 and took second in the 200 while Overmyer was the runner-up in the 3,200 and Drury took second in the pole vault.

Ellefson returns in 400

Summer Ellefson was looking to qualify for her third straight state meet as a three-time section champion.

Ellefson had to settle for qualifying for state in three events as a two-time section champ.

"I was hoping for three firsts," said Ellefson. "Unfortunately I took second in the 400."

Ellefson, who won the section title in the 400 in 1:00.40 last year, entered this year's section meet seeded first with a 1:01.29.

In the finals, Ellefson almost matched that time by clocking a 1:01.49. Unfortunately, Park Christian's Courtney Nepstad took first in 1:00.31.

"I kind of had a negative attitude going in. I wanted to win it, but the main thing was to qualify," said Ellefson. "I felt my only competition was (Nepstad). At about 200 meters, I started to pass everybody. That's when I knew I had it (a state berth)."

Ellefson entered this year's state meet seeded No. 15 out of 16 qualifiers. Ellefson, who finished 15th in 1:01.15 in her state debut in the 400 last season, is looking to improve on that time in her final state appearance.

"I really want to break 60 seconds," said Ellefson, whose best time is a 1:00.3. "Now I know how I have to run to get under a minute. I think I can do it."

Pierce returns in 800

Shelby Pierce also wanted to enter her final state meet as a three-time section champion.

Instead, Pierce joined Ellefson as a three-time state qualifier and two-time section champ.

Even though Pierce had the No. 4 seed entering the section meet, she was confident of challenging for the section title. Pierce figured her main competitor would be East Grand Forks' Marina Galstad.

That proved to be the case as Galstad won the section title in 2:22.15 while Pierce, who was in fifth place with about 300 meters to go, ended up coasting down the stretch to finish second in 2:24.18.

"The 800 is my favorite event and I really wanted to get first my senior year," said Pierce, who was the section runner-up in 2:25.17 last year. "I didn't have a very good time coming in, but I was going to do everything I could to make it to state."

Pierce, who finished 14th in 2:24.45 in her state debut in the 800 last year, is looking to top her personal best of 2:21 and bring home a medal.

"I'm hoping to make it into the finals," said Pierce, who entered state seeded No. 15 out of 17 qualifiers. "I want to get my best time and finish higher than ninth."

Lutz returns in 3,200

Lydia Lutz is looking to end her sixth trip to state with another medal in the 3,200.

Lutz entered the section meet as the heavy favorite to win that race. Despite battling a cold, Lutz lived up to that ranking by breaking away from the field midway through the race and taking first in 11:40.19.

"I felt really bad, but I felt I could still do it," said Lutz, who led the field despite having a fever and sore throat. "I've always wanted to win the section title. It's a good feeling getting first."

Lutz qualified for her first state meet in seventh grade and placed 14th in the 3,200 in 12:25.96. Lutz returned to state as an eighth grader and placed ninth in 11:43.22 to earn a state medal. After failing to qualify for state in the 3,200 as a freshman, Lutz earned another state medal by placing seventh in the 1,600 in 5:17.04 as a sophomore. Lutz failed to qualify for state in the 1,600 last year, but went back to the 3,200 this year and returned to state.

Lutz entered the state meet seeded No. 10 out of 16 qualifiers. However, her school-record time of 11:10.56 puts her in the running for a state title.

"I'd like to run a sub-11:00," said Lutz. "Hopefully I can get in the top three."

Bateman returns in 300 hurdles

Grace Bateman entered the section meet confident she would return to state in the 300 hurdles.

Bateman won the section title in that event last year with a 47.76 and entered the section meet as the No. 1 seed with a 49.03.

In the finals, Bateman lived up to that seed by repeating as the section champion with a season best 46.66. Hawley/Ulen-Hitterdal's Laure Olson was second in 46.89.

"I was confident, but I didn't want to get too confident," said Bateman. "I knew it was going to be tough, but if I ran my best race of the year, I'd be good to go. It went better than I expected."

Bateman will be looking to improve on that time again and earn her first trip to the finals in her third appearance at the state meet. Bateman finished 16th in 48.51 in 2009 and finished 17th in 48.11 last year.

"I think I have a pretty good chance to make it to the second day," said Bateman, who entered state seeded No. 7 out of 16 qualifiers. "I hope I run my best time and get to the finals."

Grimes qualifies in high jump

Megan Grimes wanted to leave the section meet with an undefeated record in the high jump.

Grimes accomplished that goal by clearing 5 feet, 3 inches to meet the state-qualifying standard and win the section title.

Grimes, who earlier in the year tied the school record by clearing 5-4, entered the section meet undefeated and seeded first with a height of 5 feet.

Grimes lived up to her top ranking by being the only competitor to clear 5-3.

"My goal was to stay undefeated in the high jump," said Grimes. "I was hoping to go 5-5, but I'm glad I made it."

Grimes entered her first state meet tied with eight other girls for the No. 3 seed at 5-3. Two girls entered state seeded first at 5-5.

"My goal is to go 5-5 and break the school record," said Grimes. "Hopefully I can get it."

Relays sweep section titles

By winning section titles in all four relays, the Panthers continued a tradition in one relay and hoped to start a new tradition in the other three.

Park Rapids qualified for state in the 4 x 800 for the fifth year in a row and returned to state in the 4 x 400 relay. Before this year, the Panthers hadn't qualified for state in a sprint relay since winning the state title in the 4 x 200 relay in 1995.

The Panthers entered the section meet as the No. 1 seed in all four relays and lived up to those rankings by sweeping all four events.

Lutz, Ellefson, Lageson and Pierce opened the meet by winning the 4 x 800 relay in 9:34.55. That group entered as the top seed with a 9:50.49. East Grand Forks took second in 9:42.03.

"I thought we had a really good chance to win it," said Lutz. "We were really excited for it."

"East Grand Forks always has a good relay team, but I was pretty confident we were going to win it," said Ellefson. "Our goal was to win it."

"This was my first year running the 4 x 8, so it was a new experience for me," said Lageson. "I felt good about our chances. Things went really good."

"It was really important to win it because we've been going to state in the 4 x 8 for so long," said Pierce. "My split wasn't the fastest, but I did what I had to do to keep us in first."

The Panthers have had plenty of success in the 4 x 800 relay at state. Lutz was a member of this relay that finished 10th in 9:55.64 in 2008 and fifth in 9:59.01 in 2009. Lutz, Ellefson and Pierce ran on the state runner-up team that broke the school record with a 9:29.44 in 2010 and returned last year to finish sixth in 9:38.27.

This year's relay team entered state as the No. 1 seed out of 16 qualifiers. That group will be looking to cap off the season by winning the state title, breaking the school record and breaking the state Class A record of 9:21.36 set by Dover-Eyota last season.

"We definitely want to win it," said Lutz. "Getting first and breaking the state record would be the most amazing way to end my senior year."

"We want to win it and break the state record," said Ellefson. "If we all run our best times, we can do it."

"Our goal is to get first," said Pierce. "I think we have a very good chance. It also would be nice to break the state record. It wouldn't get any better than that to go out your senior year by breaking the state record."

Both sprint relays also fulfilled their goal of winning section titles and qualifying for state.

Harshman, Grimes, Bateman and Vaudrin entered the section meet with a seed time of 1:49.57 in the 4 x 200 relay and improved on that by clocking a winning time of 1:48.81. Roseau was second in 1:49.46.

In the 4 x 100 relay, Harshman, Polley, Gorder and Vaudrin entered with a seed time of 52.45 and improved on that with a 52.27. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton was second in 52.78.

"I knew both relays had a really good chance of going," said Vaudrin, who missed qualifying for state in the 100 by .01 with a 12.90. "Losing by .01 in the finals of the 100 hurt really bad. I got mad and redeemed myself (in the relays)."

"I had high hopes in the 4 x 2 and 4 x 1," said Harshman. "I felt pretty confident in both."

"I was pretty confident," said Polley. "I thought our greatest obstacle was ourselves. Our handoffs were great. One of my goals was to get to state and this was my last chance. It was the perfect way to end my senior year."

"I was pretty confident we could do it," said Gorder. "It went really well."

Both relays will have to cut time in order to reach the finals. The 4 x 200 entered state seeded No. 11 out of 16 qualifiers while the 4 x 100 entered as the No. 14 seed out of 17 qualifiers

"We've tried to get a sprint relay to state for three years. It's fun to get two down there," said Vaudrin. "With better handoffs, I definitely think we can go faster. I'm hoping we get our fastest times at state. We're looking to make it to Saturday and medal."

"I think we'll drop time," said Harshman. "I'm hoping we make it to Saturday in both and finish in the top nine."

"The 4 x 2 is going to be really competitive," said Bateman. "I definitely look for us to kick it in down there."

"It's amazing to be going to state my senior year. We've talked about this all season," said Polley. "I want to get my PR (personal record) and I hope we get our best time. It would be awesome to take home a state medal."

"I've been looking forward to getting to state for a long time," said Gorder. "It's really exciting. I look for us to decrease our time and get to the finals."

The 4 x 400 relay team also has set some lofty goals to reach at state.

Bateman, Grimes, Pierce and Ellefson entered the section meet as the top seed with a 4:13.39.

That foursome ran away with the section title with a 4:06.53. East Grand Forks was second in 4:10.53.

"We've had good times all year, so we knew we had a really good chance," said Bateman.

"I was pretty confident we were going to win it," said Ellefson. "I thought we could go a 4:05. Maybe we can get that at state."

That relay team entered the state meet seeded sixth out of 16 qualifiers. That group is also looking to break the school record of 4:04.08 set in 1976.

"We're hoping to run our best times and get the school record," said Bateman. "If we do our best, we'll be sitting pretty."

"No one has really pushed us all year," said Grimes. "I think we can go faster. I'm hoping we can break the school record down there."

"I felt we had a really good chance to make it to state," said Pierce. "I think we can make it to the finals. It would be nice to break the school record."

"I want to place and break the school record," said Ellefson. "I definitely think we have a chance to do both."

Carlson fulfills goal in 200, 400

After finishing third behind two seniors at last year's section meet, Austin Carlson liked his chances of winning the section title in the 400 this year.

Carlson lived up to his No. 1 seed by advancing to state as the section champion.

Carlson also qualified for state in the 200, which turned out to be an added bonus.

"I wanted to make it to state this year," said Carlson. "I thought my chances were pretty good in the 400, but I had no clue that I'd go in the 200."

Carlson gained some confidence by clocking a runner-up 23.87 during preliminaries of the 200 after entering as the No. 4 seed.

In the finals of the 400, Carlson entered as the top seed with a 52.61. That was faster than his third-place time of 52.86 from a year ago.

Carlson topped those times by clocking a personal-best 51.22 to win the section title. Hawley/Ulen-Hitterdal's Alex Ames took second in52.66.

"I was the No. 1 seed, so I figured I had a pretty good chance," said Carlson. "I ran against and beat some of those guys before, so I was pretty confident. I just had to run my race and I ended up getting my PR.

Three events later, Carlson earned his second state berth by clocking a runner-up 23.74 in the 200. Roseau's Jared Pahlen won that event in 23.43.

"I didn't even think about going to state in the 200 until I saw the section times and I was seeded fourth," said Carlson. "After I got first in my heat in prelims, I thought I had a chance. That gave me a lot of confidence."

Entering state, Carlson was seeded 11th out of 16 runners in the 400 and 20th out of 20 runners in the 200.

"I just want to compete and get my best time in the 200," said Carlson, who clocked a 23.18 earlier this season. "I want to make it to the second day in the 400. I know I'll have to drop time. Hopefully I can get by PR and get in the top nine."

Drury vaults to first state meet

Forrest Drury's decision to wait to begin his pursuit of qualifying for state in the pole vault paid off.

Drury waited until the bar was at 12 feet to begin his quest for a state berth. After clearing 12 feet, Drury cleared 12 feet, 6 inches and 13 feet to become one three finalists.

East Grand Forks' Josh Regorrah cleared 13-6 to automatically advance while Drury and Roseau's Braden Stroot both missed at that height. However, since Stroot entered the competition at 10-6 and missed some attempts between that height and 12 feet, Drury was awarded the runner-up medal and a trip to state based on the tiebreaker of having fewer misses.

"I had been making it pretty easily at 12 feet, so we thought it was best to start at that height and save some energy for the higher jumps," said Drury, who placed fourth at last year's section meet by clearing 12 feet. "I was pretty confident I could qualify if I did my best. I knew I had to at least vault 13 feet and I thought my chances were good coming in at 12 feet. I missed my first attempt at 13 feet, but I felt pretty confident on my second attempt. I just focused on what I had to do. It worked out."

Drury, who tied his personal best at the section meet, will be looking to place and break Rex Rogstad's 1978 school record of 13-3.50.

"I'm seeded fifth, so I think a realistic goal would be to place," said Drury. "I hope to finish in the top six and I want to break the school record. I want to go 13-6. I'm going to give it my best shot and see what happens."

Overmyer follows Schuldt to state

Isaac Overmyer took some friendly advice in order to qualify for his first state track meet.

Nevis' Bryon Schuldt, who had competed in the last five state meets, told Overmyer to stick close behind him in the 3,200.

That's what Overmyer did and it resulted in a state berth.

Schuldt won the event in 9:58.29 and Overmyer followed in 10:00.06, which was his best time of the season. Those two entered as the top seeds with Schuldt's seed time of 10:15.34 and Overmyer's time of 10:23.63.

"Looking at the seeds, I was pretty confident I'd make it in the two mile," said Overmyer. "Bryon was a big help. He told me to stick with him for the first mile. I thought he'd take off with two laps left, but he didn't and I was able to stick with him the whole way."

Schuldt entered state with the No. 9 seed time while Overmyer was seeded No. 12 out of 16 qualifiers. Overmyer will be looking to move up in his state debut.

"My goal going into the season was to get to state," said Overmyer. "Looking at the seeds, it's going to be pretty tough competition. I hope to get under 10 minutes and get on the podium. I'm hoping to run the race of my life and finish in the top 9."