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Depth, talent should lead swimming team to successful season

Depth was a main reason for the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team's success last season.

With even more numbers this season, Todd Fritze is hoping more depth will produce more success this year and in the future.

Last season, a roster of 35 helped the Panthers go 4-2 in dual meets, finish fifth at the Section 5A True Team meet, earn runner-up honors at the Mid-State Conference meet, place eighth at the Section 3A meet and qualify five swimmers in four events for the state Class A meet.

Of those 35 swimmers and divers, 28 scored points in a varsity meet last season. Of those 35, 26 return to lead the Panthers this season. Another 12 will compete for varsity spots.

Among the returning veterans are three state qualifiers: seniors Zach Eystad and Jake Waggoner and junior Connor Smythe.

Smythe broke the school record in the 100-yard backstroke while placing 16th at the state meet while Waggoner finished 20th in the 500 freestyle at state. Smythe, Waggoner and Eystad helped break the school record in the 200 freestyle relay in placing fourth at the section meet and 19th at the state meet. Those three also swam on the conference champion 200 freestyle relay team while Waggoner and Eystad swam on the runner-up 400 freestyle relay team to earn all-conference honorable mention honors.

Smythe finished second on the team in points with 314, highlighted with a state trip in the 100 backstroke by placing fifth with a state-qualifying time at the section meet. Smythe also placed 15th in the 50 freestyle at the section meet and was an all-conference honorable mention swimmer with runner-up showings in the 200 medley relay and 100 backstroke.

Eystad was third in scoring with 307 points, placing third for all-conference honorable mention honors in the 50 freestyle. Eystad, who holds the No. 6 spot in school history in the 50 freestyle, also took sixth in the 50 freestyle and 23rd in the 100 freestyle at the section meet.

Waggoner compiled 246 points last season, finishing second in the 500 freestyle and 17th in the 200 freestyle at the section meet and moving up to the No. 3 spot in the 500 freestyle and No. 8 spot in the 200 freestyle in school history. Waggoner also was an all-conference honorable mention swimmer by placing third in the 500 freestyle.

Also returning after scoring points on the varsity last season are seniors Ben Kading, Kyle Merfeld and Fred Stinar; juniors Spencer Adolphson, Kurt Fritze, Kalvin Hagan, Steve Osterman, Nathan Rak and Iain Wallace; sophomores Tyler Breitweser, Matt Konshok, Dillon Schroeder and Andrew Zinke; freshmen Andrew Baldwin, Bobby Bruce, Marcus McKeever and Hunter Utke; and eighth graders Jack Bateman, Sam Eystad, Sean Vedbraaten, Jack Walsh, Tim Walsh and Steven Wattenhofer.

Of that group, Smythe, Stinar and Fritze earned all-conference honorable mention honors by taking second in the 200 medley relay while Waggoner, Kading and Fritze swam on the 400 freestyle relay team that placed 11th at the section meet.

Stinar earned all-conference honorable mention honors by placing third in diving and finished 15th in diving and 29th in the 100 butterfly at the section meet. Stinar finished with 115.50 points and moved up to the No. 5 spot in diving for 11 dives.

Hagan finished ninth in diving at the section meet and ended the season with 209.50 points. Hagan moved up to the No. 4 spot for 11 dives and the No. 6 spot for six dives in school history.

At the section meet, Kading finished 23rd in the 200 freestyle and 29th in the 500 freestyle, Fritze was 25th in the 50 freestyle, Adolphson took 36th in the 100 butterfly, and Schroeder was 22nd in the 500 freestyle. Kading finished seventh in points with 173.50, Fritze was eighth with 171 points, Adolphson compiled 115 points and Schroeder had 83.50 points last season.

Also scoring points during the regular season were Breitweser (125), Osterman (98), Konshok (65.50), Bruce (58), Utke (46.50), Merfeld (31), Zinke (26.50), Wallace (24), Jack Walsh (17), McKeever (7), Bateman (.50) and Tim Walsh (.50).

Rounding out this year's 38-member roster are juniors Niklas Froelich and Tzu (Mike) Liao; freshmen Connor Byer and Noah Schultz; and seventh graders Zachary Behrens, Matthew Benson, Matthew Bruce, Bradley Graham, Samuel Huot, Casimir Simonson, James Utke and Peter Vanbatavia.

The Panthers have some key spots to fill with the graduation of Sam Goebel, Ryan McBrady, Tyler Booge, Jamison Nessman and James Wells. Goebel, the team's MVP, rounded out the Panthers' state-qualifying 200 freestyle relay team while McBrady was a state qualifier in the 100 breaststroke.

"We have a lot of potential," said Fritze, who will be assisted by Carly Helfrich and Kristi Smythe. "Our numbers are great and the kids have good attitudes. They've been working hard and are excited to be here. I think we're going to be OK."

The Panthers will be in Section 5A this season as boys swimming expanded to six sections. With 38 swimmers and divers, Fritze is counting on the Panthers to compete for the conference title and qualify for state in multiple events.

"Our goal every year is to get kids to state," said Fritze. "We have the ability and potential to do that. We just need to work up to that potential. It all comes down to the kids buying into it and doing what they need to do."