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Girls track team has talent, depth to repeat as Section 8A champions; move up at state

Providing leadership for the Park Rapids girls track and field team this season will be seniors (from left) Kayla Johnk, Ellen Hoffman, Mady Vaudrin, Christina Mackley, Justine Rittgers.

     Now that the Park Rapids girls track and field team has become the elite team in Section 8A, head coach Corey Hill is looking for the Panthers to become an elite team in the state Class A ranks.

     Last season, the Panthers won the Subsection 8-29A title for the eighth year in a row and captured the Section 8A title for the fourth straight year. The Panthers capped off the season by qualifying eight individuals in eight events for the state Class A meet. Park Rapids ended up scoring 7 points at state to tie for 43rd place.

     Hill (whose team tied for 12th place with 21 points in 2012, tied for 50th place with 5 points in 2011 and tied for 16th place with 17 points in 2010 at the state meet) is confident the Panthers have the depth and talent to defend their subsection and section titles and climb up in the state standings.

     “This year starts with high expectations,” said Hill, who will be assisted by Leah Hilmanowski. “With eight straight subsection and four straight section championships, we understand the target on our back is quite large. Each time we compete, we are the team everyone wants to see fall. We are keeping our focus on having fun and being the best we can.”

     With seven state qualifiers and 12 other athletes who scored points at the subsection meet returning along with 27 other athletes looking to contribute on the varsity, the Panthers have the potential to turn in another successful season.

     Leading the Panthers this season will be the seven returning state qualifiers: senior Mady Vaudrin; juniors Megan Grimes and Megan Olson; sophomores Abby Mueller, Sarah Harshman and Paige Hill; and eighth grader Tori Hilmanowski.

     Vaudrin, Mueller, Harshman and Hill earned all-state honors by placing seventh in the 4 x 100-meter relay at the state meet. Vaudrin also earned all-state honors by placing sixth in the 100. Vaudrin, Grimes and Harshman ran on the 4 x 200 relay team that placed 12th while Grimes, Mueller and Hilmanowski ran on the 4 x 400 relay team that finished in 13th place. Grimes placed 10th in the 100 hurdles, Mueller finished 10th in the 200 and Olson finished 16th in the 1,600 at state. Grace Bateman was the other member of the 4 x 200 and 4 x 400 relay teams.

     In addition to that group, the Panthers return plenty of other experienced athletes in seniors Ellen Hoffman, Kayla Johnk, Christina Mackley and Justine Rittgers; junior Bria Wolff; sophomores Bailee Hoffard and Tayah Otterness; freshmen Lydia Kantonen, Haley MacPherson, Ellery Overmyer and Madison Steffel; and eighth grader Jaiden McCollum. Those 12 athletes all scored points at last year’s subsection meet.

     Returning after earning Mid-State Conference honorable mention honors by placing second at the conference meet are Vaudrin, Harshman, Mueller and Hill (4 x 100 relay), Rittgers, Grimes and Mueller (4 x 400 relay), and Vaudrin (100). The Panthers finished second behind Detroit Lakes for the fourth year in a row.

     Winning titles at the subsection meet were Olson, Steffel and Overmyer in the 4 x 800 relay; Vaudrin, Grimes and Harshman in the 4 x 200 relay; Vaudrin Harshman, Hill and Mueller in the 4 x 100 relay; Grimes, Mueller and Hilmanowski in the 4 x 400 relay; Vaudrin (100); Grimes (100 hurdles); Harshman (long jump); and Mueller (200). Taking second were Harshman (discus), Olson (1,600), Kantonen (3,200) and Overmyer (800) while Grimes (high jump), Hoffman (pole vault), Rittgers (300 hurdles) and Hoffard (100 hurdles) took third.

     Also placing at the subsection meet were Wolff (fourth in the triple jump and fifth in the discus), Hoffard (fourth in the 300 hurdles), Harshman (fourth in the discus), Otterness (sixth in the 400), Steffel (sixth in the 1,600), McCollum (sixth in the shot put), Johnk (seventh in the shot put) and MacPherson (seventh in the 200).

     At the section meet, three relays took first as Vaudrin, Grimes and Harshman ran on the winning 4 x 200 relay; Vaudrin, Harshman, Hill and Mueller ran on the winning 4 x 100 relay; and Grimes, Mueller and Hilmanowski ran on the winning 4 x 400 relay. Grimes also took first in the 100 hurdles while Vaudrin in the 100, Olson in the 1,600 and Mueller in the 200 qualified for state with runner-up finishes.

     Also scoring points at the section meet were Olson, Steffel and Overmyer in the 4 x 800 relay (third); Hoffman in the pole vault (third), Kantonen in the 3,200 (fourth); Harshman in the long jump (fifth) and discus (fifth); Grimes in the high jump (seventh); and Overmyer in the 800 (seventh).

     The other Panthers returning who competed at the section meet are Rittgers (13th) and Hoffard (16th) in the 300 hurdles), Mackley in the pole vault (tied for ninth) and Wolff in the triple jump (11th).

     Grimes was named the Panthers’ MVP after leading the team in points with 338.50. Grimes took first in the 300 hurdles five times and ran on four winning 4 x 200 and 4 x 400 relay teams last season.

     Mueller finished second in points with 303 and ran on six winning 4 x 100 relay teams, there winning 4 x 400 relay teams and two winning 4 x 200 relay teams while taking first in the 200 three times.

     Vaudrin was fourth in points with 291, including winning four titles in the 100, six titles in the 4 x 100 relay and four titles in the 4 x 200 relay.

     Harshman ran on six winning 4 x 100 relay teams and four winning 4 x 200 relay teams while compiling 258 points.

     Olson won two titles in the 1,600 en route to scoring 170 points, Hill ran on six winning 4 x 100 relay teams and scored 123 points, Overmyer scored 103 points while running on two winning 4 x 800 relay teams, Steffel ran on three winning 4 x 800 relay teams en route to scoring 76 points and Otterness scored 71 points while running on two winning 4 x 800 relay teams.

     Rittgers (68), Kantonen (58), Hoffman (41), Hilmanowski (30), Hoffard (24), Mackley (16), McCollum (11), Wolff (10), MacPherson (9) and Johnk (8) along with sophomores Brynna Johnson (6) and Jada Johnson (4) and freshmen Sarah Gorder (8) and Katelyn Warmbold (6.50) also scored points on the varsity last season.

     Rounding out the varsity lineup will be sophomores Makayla Edwards, Tea Nyland and Madisen Wagner; freshmen Caroline Drury, Lydia Christensen and Sarah Merfeld; eighth graders Morgan Anderson, Victoria Campbell, Kennedy Carlson, Rebekkah Cunningham, Shalia Gorder, Sydney Huckbody, Alycia Ronnebaum and Amelia Tusler; and seventh graders Kendra Coborn, Abby Eystad, Jerika Holmer, Coral Johnson, Shelby Leckner, Mariah Olson, Whitney Steffel and Olivia Ulvin.

     That group will be looking to fill in the spots of last year’s seniors, including Bateman, Lora Remus and Tori Lauderbaugh. Bateman qualified for state by winning the section title in the 300 hurdles and ran on the 4 x 200 and 4 x 400 relay teams that qualified for state. Remus ran on the 4 x 800 relay that took third at the section meet while Lauderbaugh placed sixth in both the 110 hurdles and high jump at the section meet.

     Last year, the Panthers finished behind Detroit Lakes at the Section 8AA True Team meet. This year, the Panthers moved to Section 8A and will battle International Falls for the Section 8A True Team title. The other teams in Section 8A are Cass Lake, Clearbrook-Gonvick, Crookston, Deer River, Fertile-Beltrami, Fisher-Climax, Grygla-Gatzke, Norman County, Northome-Kelliher, Red Lake County, Warroad and West Marshall.

     “We are dreaming big. We have been realigned in True Team to Class A. With this, we have an opportunity to compete for a return to state. We understand we have a very tough section to earn that right to compete, but we have our sights set high to win a state True Team championship,” said Hill. “We have wonderful leadership and team unity. We believe this is one of the most determined teams we have coached. If the girls continue to work hard and stay focused, we just may bring home Park Rapids’ first girls team state title.”