Panthers step up, swim to successful season
After graduating nine seniors, Todd Fritze wasn't sure what to expect from a young Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team this season.
That group delivered with another successful season.
The Panthers finished with a 6-2 record in dual meets, placed fourth at the Section 8A True Team meet, claimed runner-up honors at the Mid-State Conference meet and finished sixth at the Section 8A meet. The highlight of the season was having junior Maija Hovelsrud qualify for state and place 14th in the 100-yard breaststroke. That gave the Panthers a state qualifier for the 23rd consecutive season.
"Having to replace nine seniors was at times overwhelming," said Fritze. "This was a young team, but they worked hard and overcame a lot of obstacles. Over the past few years, we had an option of letting the younger swimmers mature at their own pace. This year was different. We needed them to step up and be fast now. There was no transition period. They were thrown into the fire and they did a fantastic job. I'm proud of everyone. We had a great season."
After opening the season by placing sixth at the seven-team Detroit Lakes Pentathlon with 49 points, the Panthers defeated Warroad (123-62), Thief River Falls (87-83) and Fosston/Bagley (113-69) before placing sixth at the seven-team Park Rapids Invitational with 153 points. Melrose took first with 595 points.
Park Rapids closed out the regular season with wins over Crookston (102-80) and Perham (110-75), a loss to Bemidji (110-76), a win over Staples-Motley (100-61) and a loss to Detroit Lakes (116-70).
At the Section 8A True Team meet, the Panthers scored 1,157 points to finish fourth behind Detroit Lakes (1,918.50), Bemidji (1,857) and Thief River Falls (1,197.50).
Detroit Lakes won the Mid-State title with 565 points as the Panthers followed with 320 points. Park Rapids ended the season by placing sixth at the Section 8A meet with 141 points as Bemidji topped the 11-team field with 421 points.
In addition to Hovelsrud, the Panthers received solid contributions all season from seniors Lizzie Bannerman, Jasmine Cease, Olivia Fischer and Trinah Szafranski; junior Jordan Klemmer; sophomores Katie Eischens and Olivia Ulvin; freshmen Jess Kaseman, Autumn Mitchell, Mary Rose Nichols and Chloe Voigt; eighth graders Savana Damar, Madi Robbins, Liesel Smee, Ellie Ulvin and Aleah Voigt; and seventh graders Allie Offerdahl, Aneka Gorder and Simone Wolff.
Ellie Ulvin was named the team's MVP, Aleah Voigt and Nichols were named Most Improved, Klemmer received the Most Spirited Award, and Offerdahl was selected as Most Dedicated/Hardest Worker.
At the Mid-State meet, Hovelsrud won the 100 breaststroke to earn all-conference honors and joined five other swimmers as all-conference honorable mention swimmers. Ellie Ulvin was the runner-up in the 100 butterfly, Olivia Ulvin was the runner-up in the 500 freestyle and placed third in the 200 freestyle, and Smee took third in both the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle. Hovelsrud joined Ellie Ulvin, Smee and Klemmer on the 200 medley relay that took third while Ellie Ulvin, Klemmer, Olivia Ulvin and Szafranski swam on the 400 freestyle relay that placed third.
At the section meet, Hovelsrud qualified for state by placing second in the 100 breaststroke to earn all-section honors. Receiving all-section honorable mention honors were Ellie Ulvin in the 100 butterfly (sixth) and Olivia Ulvin in the 200 freestyle (eighth) and 500 freestyle (seventh). Two relays also placed as Ellie Ulvin, Klemmer, Olivia Ulvin and Szafranski finished fifth in the 200 freestyle relay and sixth in the 400 freestyle relay.
Also placing at the section meet were Szafranski (12th) and Robbins (16th) in the 200 freestyle; Ellie Ulvin in the 50 freestyle (13th); Eischens (11th) and Fischer (16th) in diving; Hovelsrud in the 100 butterfly (10th); Szafranski (12th) and Klemmer (16th) in the 100 freestyle; and Robbins (14th) and Smee (16th) in the 500 freestyle.
The other section competitors were Kaseman in the 200 freestyle (23rd); Chloe Voigt (24th) and Cease (25th) in the 200 individual medley; Damar (26th) and Bannerman (33rd) in the 50 freestyle; Cease in the 100 butterfly (21st); Damar (25th) and Bannerman (27th) in the 100 freestyle; Aleah Voigt in the 500 freestyle (18th) and 100 backstroke (21st); and Kaseman (22nd), Nichols (26th) and Chloe Voigt (29th) in the 100 breaststroke. Aleah Voigt, Hovelsrud, Smee and Damar were disqualified in the 200 medley relay.
Hovelsrud, who moved up to the No. 4 spot all-time in the 100 breaststroke with a 1:09.05, capped off the season by placing 13th during preliminaries and 14th in the finals at state to score 3 points as Park Rapids finished 38th in the team standings.
In addition to Hovelsrud, Eischens cracked the Panthers' top-10 list by moving up to the No. 10 spot in diving with 186.00 points and Ellie Ulvin moved up to the No. 8 spot in the 100 butterfly with a 1:05.27.
Ten swimmers and divers scored at least 100 points this season with Ellie Ulvin leading the way with 334 points. Rounding out the top 10 were Olivia Ulvin (287.50), Hovelsrud (267), Klemmer (227.50), Szafranski (223), Smee (222.50), Robbins (160.50), Aleah Voigt (135.50), Damar (125) and Kaseman (124).
Also scoring points on varsity this season were Chloe Voigt (94.50), Eischens (80), Nichols (73.50), Bannerman (72.50), Fischer (59.50), Offerdahl (29.50), Wolff (23.50), Mitchell (23) and Cease (22.50).
"From where we started time-wise to where we ended, the girls did a fantastic job," said Fritze. "We lose four seniors, who each brought something different to the team that you can't replace, but I'm excited for next year. We're always looking to be better. We had a great section meet and I'm hoping we can keep that enthusiasm going next year."