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Confident Panthers back up expectations by qualifying for state track meet

     All 13 of Park Rapids’ athletes who ended up qualifying for the state Class A track and field meet exuded plenty of confidence entering last Saturday’s Section 8A meet at Mahnomen.

     That group had plenty of reasons to be confident after entering the section meet seeded either first or second in 14 running events. Those 13 athletes actually exceeded their expectations by advancing to state in 15 events.

     Senior Grace Bateman; juniors Austin Carlson and Mady Vaudrin; sophomores Isaac Overmyer and Megan Grimes; and freshman Sarah Harshman fulfilled their quest of returning to state while senior Jake Waggoner; juniors Kurt Fritze and Bryce Brovitch; freshmen Abby Mueller, Megan Olson and Paige Hill; and seventh grader Tori Hilmanowski accomplished their goals of qualifying for state for the first time by placing first or second at the section meet.

     The Panthers returned to state in three relays as Grimes, Bateman, Harshman and Vaudrin won the 4 x 200 relay; Harshman, Mueller, Hill and Vaudrin took first in the 4 x 100 relay; and Grimes, Hilmanowski, Mueller and Bateman won the 4 x 400 relay. Grimes advanced by winning the section title in the 100 hurdles while Bateman returned to state as the section champion in the 300 hurdles. Also qualifying for state as section runners-up were Vaudrin in the 100, Olson in the 1,600 and Mueller in the 200.

     For the boys, Carlson returned to state by winning the section title in the 400 and taking second in the 200. Overmyer returned to state by winning the 3,200 and also qualified as the section champion in the 1,600. Fritze advanced with runner-up finishes in the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles. Fritze, Waggoner, Brovitch and Carlson capped off the section meet by winning the 4 x 400 relay.

     That group was looking to advance to the state Class A finals, which conclude today (Saturday) at Hamline University in St. Paul.

Panthers return in three relays

     The Panthers just missed repeating history in the relays.

     Last year, the Park Rapids girls track team shined by qualifying for state in all four relays for the first time in school history.

     The Panthers had another solid showing in the relays last Saturday by living up to three No. 1 seeds and winning three section titles while taking third in the 4 x 800 relay.

     Grimes, Bateman, Harshman and Vaudrin entered as the top seed in the 4 x 200 relay with a 1:49.43. Bagley/Fosston was seeded No. 2 at 1:50.65.

     That’s how that relay finished as the Panthers won the section title in 1:50.45 while Bagley/Fosston was second in 1:51.13.

     “I knew we’d get it,” said Grimes. “All we had to do was run out best.”

     “It was really between us and Bagley. It came down to who wanted to take first,” said Bateman. “I knew if we ran the way we can, we’d come out on top and we did.”

     “It’s hard not being the starter, but I adjusted,” said Harshman, who moved from the lead-off leg last year to the third leg this year. “I was pretty confident we’d win it.”

     “Our biggest competition was Bagley, but I was pretty confident we’d beat them,” said Vaudrin. “When I got the baton, the Bagley girl was ahead of me, but I chased her down.”

     Those same four girls qualified for the state meet last year and finished ninth in 1:50.76. Topping that performance was the main goal entering this year’s state meet.

     “Hopefully we’ll get our best time,” said Grimes. “We also want to get the school record.”

     “It’s going to be really tough because there are a lot of really good times there,” said Bateman. “We had bad handoffs and had to run in the wind (at sections). We haven’t run our best time yet. Hopefully we’ll hit out handoffs, get our PR (personal record) and make it to the second day. That’s our ultimate goal.”

     “I’m going to go for a better time at state,” said Harshman. “I think we’ll go faster.”

     “We haven’t run as fast as last year, but I think we can make it to the finals and place higher,” said Vaudrin.

     The Panthers were just as confident going into the finals of the 4 x 100 relay.

     Park Rapids entered with the fastest seed time of 51.27. Bagley/Fosston was again the No. 2 seed at 53.63.

     In the finals, Harshman, Mueller, Hill and Vaudrin clocked a winning time of 51.92, which was easily ahead of Bagley/Fosston’s runner-up 53.35. That winning time sent Harshman and Vaudrin back to state in this relay.

     “I was pretty confident,” said Harshman. “I knew we’d do really well.”

     “The only thing I was worried about was getting the baton around the track,” said Mueller. “We’ve been working hard on our handoffs. I was pretty confident we’d make it as long as we nailed our handoffs.”

     “Getting on the 4 x 1 relay and getting to state were my big goals,” said Hill. “I felt really confident that we were going to win it. I was a little nervous, but once I got the baton to Mady, I knew we had it.”

     “I didn’t think there was any competition,” said Vaudrin. “All we had to do was get the baton around to get to state.”

     The Panthers missed their goal of breaking East Grand Forks’ section record of 50.99 set in 1992, but did reach their goal of qualifying for state. That group wanted to greatly improve on last year’s 15th-place time of 52.50 and make a run at winning a state title.

     “I think we have a good chance to win it,” said Harshman.

     “I think we can place pretty high,” said Mueller.

     “Hard work does pay off,” said Hill. “I think we can do better. We’re going for first place. If we nail our handoffs, I believe we can get it.”

     “I’m confident we’ll make the finals,” said Vaudrin. “I think we’ve got a shot at winning it or at least placing in the top three.”

     Grimes and Bateman were looking to cap off the section meet with another trip to state in the 4 x 400 relay.

     Those two helped Hilmanowski and Mueller earn their first state trips in this event.

     The Panthers entered with the top seed time of 4:15.12. East Grand Forks was second at 4:17.72.

     This race wasn’t close as the Panthers took first in 4:19.72 while East Grand Forks was a distant second at 4:24.56.

     “I love the 4 x 4,” said Grimes. “I could have gone a little faster, but I got the job done.”

     “It was a big surprise that I made it to state. At the beginning of the year, I thought my track season would be over by now,” said Hilmanowski. “I knew we had a good shot at making it. The girls told me to just run as fast as I can.”

     “I was pretty confident we’d go in that relay,” said Mueller. “I’m glad we made it.”

     “I figured it would between us and East Grand Forks,” said Bateman. “I thought it would be closer than it was. We were so far ahead when I got the baton that I was just going for time.”

     This group was also looking to improve on their time and try to make a run at last year’s time of 4:06.61 that resulted in a sixth-place finish at state.

     “I’m hoping to get my split under a minute,” said Grimes. “Hopefully we can go a 4:10 or lower.”

     “I’m really excited,” said Hilmanowski. “Hopefully the team does well and we get a better time.”

     “I’m just excited to make it in two relays,” said Mueller. “I think we’ll do pretty well.”

     “It’s going to be tough to make it to the second day, but we haven’t reached our stride yet,” said Bateman. “Hopefully we’ll peak at state.”

Bateman looks to cap off career with medal

     Bateman was counting on experience to get her back to state in the 300 hurdles.

     Despite three prior trips to state and the best seed time of 48.71, Bateman was still cautiously optimistic about repeating as section champ in that event.

     “I knew there was going to be some competition because the times were a lot closer than last year,” said Bateman. “I knew I was the most experienced hurdler. Things turned out well.”

     Bateman’s experience paid off as the Park Rapids senior defended her title with a 49.47. Park Christian’s Sydney Larson followed in 49.94.

     In her previous three state appearances, Bateman placed 16th in 48.51 in 2009, 17th in 48.11 in 2011 and eighth in 47.60 last season. Bateman was looking to cap off her fourth and final state trip with another state medal.

     “The last few years I’ve peaked at the Mid-State Conference meet. This year I hope to peak at state,” said Bateman, who has battled a quad injury the last three weeks. “I hope to run my best time ever. If I run smart, I think I can make the podium again.”

Carlson returns in 200, 400

     Carlson was looking to repeat last year’s section meet when he won the 400 and took second in the 200 to advance to state in both races.

     History repeated itself as Carlson defended his section title in the 400 and repeated as runner-up in the 200.

     Entering the section meet, Carlson was the No. 2 seed in the 400 with a 52.61. Crookston’s Brandt Delage had the top time of 52.29.

     Carlson was confident of defending his title and accomplished that with a winning time of 51.92. Delage took second in 52.41.

     “I wasn’t really too worried,” said Carlson. “I was seeded second, but I knew if I ran my race that I’d beat him.”

     The 200 wasn’t such a sure bet.

     Despite a poor start, Carlson advanced to the finals in the 200 with a preliminary time of 24.47. That trailed the 23.52 of Roseau’s Jared Pahlen and the 24.14 of Mahnomen/Waubun’s Trevor Haugo.

     In the finals, Carlson had another bad start, but was able to secure a return trip to state with a runner-up 24.08. Pahlen defended his title with a 23.48 while Haugo was third in 24.27.

     “I knew Pahlen was going to win it, so I was shooting for second,” said Carlson. “I knew I’d make it if I had a better start. I had another bad start, but I still made it.”

     Carlson was looking to improve on last year’s times where he took 13th in 52.06 in the 400 and 20th in 23.88 in the 200 in his state debut.

     “The 200 is just a bonus for me. I just want to try and get my best time,” said Carlson. “I feel I have a good lane (Lane 1) in the 400. I like to chase people down, so hopefully I can use that to my advantage and get to the finals. I didn’t medal last year, so I’d like to get some hardware this year.”

Overmyer seeks another medal

     Overmyer accomplished his goal last season by placing ninth in his state debut in the 3,200.

     This year, Overmyer is hoping to earn a state medal in both the 1,600 and 3,200.

     Overmyer entered this year’s section meet as the No. 2 seed in both races with a 4:51.37 in the 1,600 and a 10:34.57 in the 3,200. Not being the top seed in either race concerned the Park Rapids sophomore.

     “I checked the times and knew what people could run,” said Overmyer. “I expected to go to state in both.”

     The 1,600 went according to plan as Overmyer took control at the midway point and led the pack with a winning time of 4:47.97. Roseau’s Weston Nelson was second in 4:53.84.

     “I thought the mile would be a little harder, but I was pretty confident I’d go,” said Overmyer. “My strategy was to stick with the leader and not take the lead until the 800 mark. I was able to get a nice lead after that.”

     Overmyer used a similar strategy in running away with the section title in the 3,200. Overmyer led the way with a 10:28.95 while Roseau’s Tyler Erickson was second in 10:36.20.

     “I was really confident in the two mile because longer distances are more my strength,” said Overmyer. “I used the same strategy by keeping with the leader for the first half and then opening up a nice lead and coasting.”

     In his second state appearance, Overmyer was looking to again finish in the top nine spots in the 3,200 and attempt to contend for a state medal in the 1,600.

     “I’m just going to worry about the two mile first. I’m hoping to peak in the two mile and shoot for a 9:40. I’m just going to worry about my time and not what place. I think I have a good chance to get on the podium again,” said Overmyer, who clocked a 9:58.20 at last year’s state meet. “We’ll see how it goes in the mile. I’m going to shoot to get below 4:40. It’d be cool to be on the podium in the mile.”

Vaudrin sprints back to state

     Vaudrin was wondering whether she would return to state in the 100.

     After qualifying for state in that race in 2010 as an eighth grader, Vaudrin missed out the next two years by finishing behind Warroad’s Deidre Hahn and Park Christian’s Courtney Nepstad.

     That streak ended last Saturday as Vaudrin entered the section meet with the fastest time of 13.23 and clocked the best time during preliminaries with a 12.89 ahead of Hahn’s 13.14. However, Hahn ended up winning the section title in 12.45 while Vaudrin took second in 12.78. Fisher-Climax’s Taylor Altepeter was a distant third in 13.18. Nepstad didn’t compete in the 100 this year.

     “I was really scared,” said Vaudrin. “I was really confident after prelims. I really wanted to beat Deidre. I was mad I didn’t get first, but I was really relieved to take second.”

     Vaudrin, who finished 21st in 13.23 in her 2010 debut, was looking earn a spot in the finals.

     “It’s going to be tough, but I think I can make it to the finals,” said Vaudrin. “I’d like to run a 12.4. That should get me to the finals.”

Mueller recovers, completes mission

     Mueller’s chance to qualify for state in the 200 last year was taken away when she suffered a hip injury during the subsection meet.

     A fully recovered Mueller took advantage of her opportunity to qualify for state in that race this year.

     Mueller entered the section meet as the top seed with a 26.55 and led the field during preliminaries with a 27.26. Hahn was second in 27.35.

     In the finals, Hahn dropped her time to a 26.42 to take first while Mueller followed in 26.86. Nepstad took third in 27.25.

     “I really wanted to make it to state after not being able to run last year,” said Mueller. “I just wanted to make sure I had a spot in the finals during prelims. After prelims, I heard some girls talking about me, so I was pretty confident I’d make it. I wasn’t happy with my time, but I was happy with my place.”

     With her runner-up finish, Mueller received another chance to finish ahead of Hahn and contend for her first state medal.

     “I’m just glad to get through this year,” said Mueller. “It’s going to be tough, but I hope to place.”

Grimes returns in individual event

     Last season, Grimes won the section title in the high jump and tied for 13th place at the state meet.

     This year, Grimes finished seventh in the high jump at the section meet. However, Grimes earned a trip to state in a different event by winning the section title in the 100 hurdles.

     “I wanted to go to state in all four events, but I mostly wanted to go in the hurdles and relays,” said Grimes.

     Grimes accomplished that goal by easily topping the field in the 100 hurdles.

     Entering the section meet, Grimes had the best qualifying time of 16.23. Grimes lived up to that seed by clocking the fastest time during preliminaries with a 16.65.

     In the finals, Grimes again dominated by clocking a winning time of 16.26. Park Christian’s Sydney Larson was second in 16.61.

     “I was 95 percent sure I’d qualify (for state),” said Grimes. “I was first in prelims by half a second. I wanted to go 100 percent (in the finals) and get a good spot at state.”

     With a solid spot at state secured, Grimes was looking to lower that time and earn a spot in the state finals.

     “It’s going to be good to have people push me,” said Grimes. “My goal is to get in the low 15s and make it to the finals.”

Olson outlasts competition to advance

     Olson expected a repeat of the subsection meet where Bagley/Fosston’s Marissa Carlson and Trek North’s Sarah Hamrin battled Olson for the title.

     Entering the section meet, those three runners had the top times with Olson entering as the No. 2 seed with a 5:29.18.

     That’s where Olson ended up as Carlson won the section title in 5:32.12 and Olson followed in 5:32.34. Hamrin was third in 5:35.41 while Park Christian’s Heidi Lageson took fourth in 5:37.83.

     “I knew the competition would be tough with the Bagley girl and the Trek North girl,” said Olson. “My goal was to take first, but at the 200 mark, I didn’t feel like I had it. I knew I just had to go for it.”

     Olson faced even tougher competition at state, but was looking to contend for a medal.

     “It would be pretty cool to medal,” said Olson. “I’m going to try and run a 5:15. I’m just happy to make it. Whatever happens happens.”

Fritze hurdles way to state

     Entering the section meet, Fritze was confident of advancing to state in the 300 hurdles.

     Also qualifying in the 110 hurdles was a bit of a surprise.

     “My goal was to make it in the top two in the 300s and 4 x 4,” said Fritze. “I wasn’t too sure about the 110s.”

     Fritze was seeded No. 4 in the 110s entering the section meet with a 17.17. During preliminaries, Fritze barely advanced to the finals in the 110s with an 18.45 for the No. 7 spot. Hawley/Ulen-Hitterdal’s Philip Teeples had the top time of 16.77.

     In the finals, Fritze used a better start to secure a state trip with a runner-up 16.78. Teeples took first in 16.60 while Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton’s Michael Tollefson finished third in 16.95.

     “(In preliminaries), I wanted to get out of the blocks fast, but my steps were off on the first three hurdles,” said Fritze. “In the finals I thought to stick with what I was used to doing. I pumped myself up and got in the zone. I wasn’t expecting taking second.”

     The 300 race was a different story as Fritze entered as the No. 2 seed with a 42.84 and lived up to that ranking.

     East Grand Forks’ Jake Kallock won the section title in 41.73 while Fritze followed in 42.75. Teeples was a distant third in 45.17.

     “When I looked at the sheet, I wasn’t too worried. I figured it was between me and the East Grand Forks guy because we were two seconds ahead of everybody,” said Fritze. “I was pretty confident I’d make it. My focus was on beating Kallock.”

     Fritze’s next goal was to focus on topping his times and earning a spot in the finals.

     “I want to get a high 15 in the 110s and a 41 in the 300s,” said Fritze. “I’m going to go all out. If I place, that would be awesome.”

Relay team qualifies in thrilling fashion

     Midway through the final leg, Carlson was content that the 4 x 400 relay was comfortably in second place and headed to state.

     When Carlson saw East Grand Forks’ anchor was tiring, he decided first place was within reach.

     “I saw him dying when he hit 200 meters,” said Carlson. “My last 200 is faster than my first 200 and that’s when I usually catch people. Around 100 meters I looked at him and saw he was straining. I knew it would be a close finish.”

     Carlson’s sprint gave the Panthers the section title with a 3:37.03. That was faster than their top seed time of 3:37.20. East Grand Forks was second in 3:37.27 while Walker-Hackensack-Akeley took third in 3:41.35.

     “That was one of the funnest races of the season,” said Fritze. “We were pretty confident we’d make it, but we were hoping to beat East Grand Forks. I wanted to stay in front of Walker and give Jake a good head start. I did what I had to do.”

     “At the beginning of the year I didn’t think I’d have a chance to get to state, but then I realized I could run a pretty decent 400,” said Waggoner, who also competed at state in cross country and swimming this season to join Jake DeBlieck (cross country in 1997, swimming in 1998 and 1999, and track in 1999) as the only Park Rapids male athletes to compete in three different sports at state. “Going in I thought we had a very good shot. I would have been upset if we didn’t make it to state. It wasn’t my best showing, but I guess it made the finish more fun.”

     “Looking at the times, I felt pretty good about our chances,” said Brovitch, who competed in track for the first time. “I tried to catch the guy in front of me. I was pretty happy with my time.”

     “I felt our chances were pretty good. I thought it would be a good race, but I was confident we’d take home the section title if we ran our best race,” said Carlson. “I’ve told the guys all year that all they need to do is keep it close and give me the baton and I’ll catch them.”

     The Panthers qualified for state in a relay for the first time since 2002 when Jeff Wilkins, Anthony Novak, J.T. Lempola and Brady Zubke placed seventh in 3:40.85. That relay team was looking to cap off the first day of state competition the same way they capped off the section meet.

     “We’re going to try and get below a 3:34,” said Fritze. “Hopefully we’ll make it to Saturday.”

     “I didn’t run very well (at sections), but I’ll definitely go faster at state,” said Waggoner. “This will be my last race as a Panther. I’m going to go out strong and hope we get in the low 3:30s. Coming back the second day and getting a medal would be cool.”

     “It’s pretty cool being the first relay team to get to state since 2002,” said Carlson. “We’ve been tapering all week, so we should be fresh going in. Hopefully we’ll push ourselves against some good competition and drop enough time to make it to Day 2.”