Park Rapids boys track team exceeds expectations
Andrew Lachowitzer was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the Park Rapids boys track and field team this season.
Of the 32 athletes who competed in a varsity meet, 27 were underclassmen with five seniors along with only three juniors. Despite having a young team, the Panthers turned in a solid season by placing third at the Section 8A True Team meet and winning the Subsection 8-29A title for the sixth time in the last seven years.
Highlighting the season was having seniors Adam Jacobi and Jack Christenson, junior Matt Benson and sophomore Seth Breitweser finishing second at the Section 8A meet in the 4 x 800-meter relay to qualify for the state Class A meet. That relay team finished 14th at the state meet at Hamline University in St. Paul to put the finishing touches on a successful season.
"We capped off a great season by sending our 4 x 800 relay team to state for the first time in years," said Lachowitzer. "They ran very well in heat that we hadn't seen all season, which is very hard to prepare for. I'm very proud of them for putting in the hard work all season to get the reward of competing at state."
In addition to the four state qualifiers, the Panthers received strong performances from the other 28 varsity competitors. That group featured seniors Kaleb Carlson, Wyatt Soderberg and Dylan VanDerStad; juniors Bradley Graham and Bryce James; sophomores Chris Day, Jeremiah Engst, Spencer Fritze, Zach Fritze, Kole Gieseke, Payton Hill, Preston Renneberg and Jake Reish; freshmen Marcus Benson, Eli Bessman, Hunter Brandt, Kolby Brandt, Max Crist, Cameron Etter, Keegan Moses and Avery Wolff; eighth grader Lane Monaghan; and seventh graders Darryl Etter, Josiah May, Sam Reish, Kaleb Stearns, Zach Van Batavia and Sam Warne.
The Panthers opened the season by placing eighth at the 20-team Little Amik Invitational at Bemidji State University with 24 points. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton took first in this indoor meet with 101 points. Jacobi, Christenson, Breitweser and Jake Reish took first in the 4 x 800 relay at that meet.
At the Aurora Borealis Invitational at BSU, the Panthers finished fourth out of 17 teams with 36 points as Christenson won the 800 and joined Jacobi, Breitweser and Jake Reish on the 4 x 800 relay team that took first. Grand Forks Red River claimed the team title with 234.83 points in this second indoor meet.
In the outdoor opener, the Panthers placed seventh at the 11-team Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational with 60 points as the host Wolverines took first with 102.50 points. Jacobi, Christenson, Breitweser and James won the 4 x 800 relay to lead the way.
Those same four relay members claimed the 4 x 800 relay title at the Perham Invitational as the Panthers placed fifth with 53.50 points. Perham topped the nine-team field with 191 points.
Jacobi, Breitweser, James and Renneberg teamed up to win the 4 x 800 relay at the Staples-Motley Invitational to lead the Panthers to fifth place with 89.50 points. The host Cardinals led the seven-team field with 159 points.
D-G-F captured the team title at the Crookston Invitational with 197 points as the Panthers finished seventh out of 13 teams with 43 points. Park Rapids then placed sixth out of seven teams at the Detroit Lakes Invitational with 29 points as Bemidji led the way with 152.50 points.
Jake Reish won the high jump while Jacobi, James, Renneberg and Matt Benson took first in the 4 x 800 relay as Park Rapids placed third at the 16-team Section 8A True Team meet at Park Rapids with 827 points. Ada-Borup/Norman County won the team title with 959 points.
At the Mid-State Conference meet at Staples, Jake Reish was the conference champion in the high jump while Jacobi, Christenson, Breitweser and James finished second in the 4 x 800 relay as the Panthers took fourth with 37.33 points. Detroit Lakes claimed the conference title with 128.33 points to top the five-team field.
Park Rapids captured the subsection title at Walker with 177.50 points to top the nine-team field. Leading the way with winning efforts were the 4 x 800 relay team of Jacobi, Christenson, Breitweser and Matt Benson; and the 4 x 400 relay team of Christenson, Breitweser, James and Kolby Brandt. Also taking first were Christenson in the 800, Spencer Fritze in the pole vault, Bessman in the 300 hurdles and Kolby Brandt in the 400.
Adding runner-up showings were Jacobi in the 3,200, Breitweser in the 800, Renneberg in the 1,600, Crist in the 300 hurdles, and the 4 x 100 relay team of Spencer Fritze, May, Gieseke and Zach Fritze. Placing third were Carlson in the pole vault, Jake Reish in the high jump, Zach Fritze in the 200 and Crist in the 110 hurdles.
Also advancing to the section meet by placing fourth were Bessman in the 110 hurdles, Monaghan in the 1,600, Moses in the 3,200, and the 4 x 200 relay team of Zach Fritze, May, Gieseke and Bessman. Placing fifth and also earning trips to the section meet were May in the 100 and James in the 800.
Park Rapids' other subsection competitors were Jake Reish in the triple jump (fifth) and long jump (eighth); Wolff in the high jump (tied for fifth) and discus (ninth); Engst in the pole vault (fifth) and triple jump (eighth); Matt Benson in the discus (sixth), 400 (seventh) and shot put (ninth); Bessman in the triple jump (seventh); Graham in the shot put (seventh); Spencer Fritze in the 100 (eighth); Van Batavia in the 3,200 (eighth); Darryl Etter in the 300 hurdles (eighth); Warne in the 1,600 (ninth); Stearns in the 400 (ninth) and 200 (13th); Crist in the long jump (10th); Gieseke in the 200 (10th); Hunter Brandt in the 100 (11th); Sam Reish in the long jump (tied for 15th); Soderberg in the shot put (15th); and Marcus Benson in the discus (15th).
Jacobi, Christenson, Breitweser and Matt Benson led Park Rapids to 10th place at the Section 8A meet at Bagley by winning the 4 x 800 relay. The Panthers scored 26 points in the 24-team meet as D-G-F claimed the section title with 126.50 points.
Also placing for the Panthers were Christenson in the 800 (fourth); Carlson in the pole vault (seventh); Bessman in the 300 hurdles (seventh), Breitweser in the 800 (eighth) and Renneberg in the 1,600 (eighth). The 4 x 400 relay team of Christenson, Breitweser, Zach Fritze and Matt Benson placed sixth; the 4 x 100 relay team of Zach Fritze, Spencer Fritze, May and Gieseke placed sixth; and the 4 x 200 relay team of Spencer Fritze, Bessman, May and Gieseke placed eighth.
Park Rapids' other section finishers were Zach Fritze (ninth in the 200), Spencer Fritze (ninth in the pole vault), Monaghan (10th in the 1,600), Crist (tied for 10th in the 300 hurdles and 11th in the 110 hurdles), Jake Reish (12th in the high jump), Moses (14th in the 3,200), May (14th in the 100), Bessman (16th in the 110 hurdles) and James (16th in the 800).
Jacobi was named the Panthers' MVP while Christenson compiled the most points. Other team awards went to Carlson (Hardest Worker), Spencer Fritze (Most Improved), Kolby Brandt (Rookie of the Year) and Zach Fritze (Best Leader). Matt Benson, Breitweser and Jake Reish received Coaches Awards.
"The season went very well overall. We were very young this season, but the kids had high expectations for themselves and we ended up sending kids to sections in 15 of the 18 events," said Lachowitzer. "It just shows the character that this team had all season and I was very impressed by how much they improved throughout the season."
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers have three key spots to fill with the graduation of Jacobi, Christenson and Carlson. However, Lachowitzer expects an even stronger showing next spring with the return of a talented group of athletes.
"My expectations next season will be very high as we return many athletes that made it to sections and many others that were very close," said Lachowitzer. "It will be a lot of fun to see how much they improve and grow coming into next season. I am hoping we send more athletes to sections next season and hopefully even more to state."