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Panthers handle pressure to qualify for state

Jaiden McCollum anchored Park Rapids' 4 x 200-meter relay team to a runner-up finish at the Section 8A meet and a trip to state. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Entering last Saturday's Section 8A track and field meet at Bagley, Park Rapids had a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in four events.

The Panthers lived up to those seeds as nine individuals qualified for the state Class A meet in four events.

Lydia Kantonen was the top seed in the 3,200-meter run and finished first in 12:12.35. Jaiden McCollum was the top seed in the shot put and took first with a throw of 37 feet, 10 inches. Seth Breitweser, Matt Benson, Jack Christenson and Adam Jacobi entered as the No. 1 seed in the 4 x 800 relay and ended up qualifying for state with a runner-up time of 8:34.10. Hannah Morgan, Abby Eystad, Kamree Carlson and McCollum entered as the No. 2 seed in the 4 x 200 relay and ended up placing second in 1:50.71. Carlson also qualified for state in the shot put with a runner-up toss of 36-3.75 after entering as the No. 3 seed.

Park Rapids was looking to place and bring home medals in all four events at the state meet.

Kantonen runs through pain

Despite being the favorite to win the section title in the 3,200, Kantonen was a little worried about her chances of qualifying for state.

The senior was battling shin splints and didn't run the week prior to the section meet. That lack of training didn't have much of an impact.

"I felt really good and dropped 16 seconds at subs (the Subsection 8-29A meet), so I thought I had a good shot. Then I spent all week in the pool because I had shin splints, so I was a little worried," said Kantonen. "Once I started running, the pain faded and I told myself that I could do this. My time was slow, but I'll take it."

Kantonen easily led the field as Roseau's Ellie Nelson was second in 12:23.21 and Warroad's Emma Brunelle was third in 12:29.51.

Kantonen, who placed fifth in this race in 11:39.52 at state as a sophomore after winning the section title in 11:48.64 two years ago, was looking to end her high school career with another spot on the podium.

"I want to go out with a medal," said Kantonen, who also ran on two 4 x 800 relays that placed ninth in 2014 and 10th in 2015 at state.

McCollum repeats as section champ

Even though she had failed to surpass 40 feet during the regular season, McCollum was confident she would defend her section title in the shot put.

McCollum again fell short of reaching the 40-foot mark, but was able to accomplish her main goal of returning to state.

"It was pretty important (to repeat)," said McCollum. "I was very confident. I was ranked first and I knew I could do it. I had thrown state-qualifying before and I thought I could throw it again."

Even though McCollum didn't reach her season best of 39-1 or the state mark of 38-9, she was able to successfully defended her section title.

At last year's state meet, McCollum finished fourth with a throw of 40-0.25 after breaking her own school record with a throw of 41-9 to win the section title. The Park Rapids junior is looking to break her school record and bring home another medal in her second state trip in the shot put.

"My goal at the end of last year was to make it to state again," said McCollum. "My goal is to make it to the finals. I'm hoping to hit the 40-foot mark and get my PR (personal record).

Carlson qualifies in shot put

Carlson was a little shocked when she finished behind McCollum to earn her first state trip in the shot put.

"I was a little surprised. It still hasn't hit me yet," said Carlson. "My main priority was to get there in shot. As the season went along, I kept getting my PR. I wanted to get there so bad. I knew it would be close, but I thought I had a chance."

Carlson fell short of her season best of 36-10, but still managed to top the third-place throw of 35-10 by Park Christian's Allyson Kangas to claim the other state spot.

The Park Rapids freshman was looking to surpass her personal best and contend for a medal in her state debut in the shot put.

"I'm excited," said Carlson. "It'd be crazy if I made it on the podium. I'm hoping to PR and hit 38 or 39."

4 x 200 relay returns to state

With three of the four members of the 4 x 200 relay team returning with state experience, all four members were confident of having Park Rapids represented at state in this relay once again.

Eystad and McCollum ran in this relay that won the section title in 1:49.13 and placed 13th at state in 1:48.90 in 2015. McCollum and Carlson were members of this relay that repeated as section champs with a 1:47.77 and finished 10th in 1:48.13 at last year's state meet.

Even with a different unit, all four expected to earn a state trip.

"I was really nervous, but pretty confident," said Morgan, an eighth grader who led off the relay and qualified for her first state meet. "I knew we could pull it off if we all ran as fast as we could."

"It would have been nice to get first, but I'm happy with second," said Eystad, a sophomore who ran the second leg. "I knew we had a good chance, but anything can happen. We just had to give it our all and leave it all on the track."

"I was really excited. I knew we could do it," said Carlson. "We just had to give it our all. We told ourselves that if we ran as fast as we can, we'd be OK."

"I was pretty confident. We were ranked second and I knew we had a better time in us," said McCollum. "I would have liked to get first, but we made it. It was very close, but we fought to the finish and prevailed."

Bagley entered with the top time of 1:50.63 with Park Rapids' 1:51.51 and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton's 1:51.97 following. East Grand Forks ended up winning the section title in 1:50.20 with the Panthers edging out D-G-F's 1:50.83 for second place. Bagley was fourth in 1:50.99.

The Panthers were looking to top their section time and earn a spot in the finals at state.

"I'm just going to do the best I can," said Morgan. "I hope we PR and make it to the second day. Whatever happens, happens."

"I'd like us to get a 1:49," said Eystad. "Hopefully we'll drop a little more time. With the good competition, I think we should do it."

"I'm going to have fun and hope everything goes well," said Carlson. "Hopefully we'll PR and move up."

"Anything can happen at state," said McCollum. "I'm hoping we PR and get under 1:50."

4 x 800 relay qualifies

During the regular season, Park Rapids' 4 x 800 relay team had taken first in six meets with Jacobi running on all six relays. Breitweser ran on five of those teams, Christenson ran on four of those teams and Benson ran on only one of those teams.

At the subsection meet, those four teamed up for the first time and took first in 8:33.31 to enter the section meet as the top seed.

That gave all four plenty of confidence of claiming a state berth despite running together for only the second time all season.

"I was nervous, but I was pretty confident. I knew there was no reason why we couldn't go to state," said Breitweser, a sophomore who led off the relay. "I ran slower that at subs and I was a little mad about that. But we made it."

"We were confident, but we knew we couldn't take anything for granted," said Benson, a junior who ran the second leg. "We had to earn it."

"I was pretty confident, but not too confident," said Christenson, a senior who ran the third leg. "I would have rather been first, but we'll beat them at state."

"I felt our chances were pretty good. We were seeded first and I knew if we ran our race, we could do it," said Jacobi, a senior who led the way with a solid anchor leg. "I knew we'd have competition, so we had to fight for it. I'm happy with the way it came out."

D-G-F, which entered the section meet as the No. 2 seed with an 8:38.22, won the section title in 8:28.70. Ada-Borup/Norman County West was a close third in 8:34.80.

With a state trip secured, those four were gunning to reach the podium and break the school record of 8:21.3 set back in 1982 in their state track debuts.

"Our goal at state is to finish in the top six and go for the record," said Breitweser. "I think we have a good shot if we all have a good meet and run our best times."

"We're going to shoot to break the school record and medal," said Benson. "If we all run our best times, I think we can get it."

"I hope we medal. Getting on the podium would be great," said Christenson. "If we all run a good race, I think we can."

"This is my first state trip in track. I'm excited to be going down there," said Jacobi. "Hopefully we can medal and break the school record. That's the goal we have. That would be a nice way to end it."