Kerry Johnson is looking for some runners to take over the leadership roles for the Park Rapids boys and girls cross-country teams this fall.
The Panthers have to replace eight runners who graduated from last year's teams. Leading that group were Adam Jacobi and Lydia Kantonen, who combined to compete in six state Class A meets.
Nolan Booge, Kaleb Carlson, Jack Christenson, Per Jorgenson, Madison Steffel and Macky Warne also graduated, leaving the Panthers will several key positions to fill.
On the positive side, Johnson has 10 runners returning with varsity experience. That group will be looking to lead the Panthers to another successful season.
"Some of the runners really put on the miles and that is always good. I've been pretty happy with their conditioning after the first week. They seem to be pushing themselves and each other and they are a hard-working group," said Johnson. "My overall goals for both teams are for each runner to show up every day ready to work hard and to bring a great attitude. We can do so much with both of those. Our numbers are down a bit, but these are all quality student athletes and I look forward to working with them. I hope they can stay healthy and improve meet after meet."
Girls begin with low numbers
Johnson will be searching for a new No. 1 runner with the graduation of Kantonen.
Kantonen capped off her final high school season by placing third at the Section 8A meet to qualify for her fourth consecutive state trip. Kantonen received all-state honors by placing 22nd in her final state appearance.
Kantonen was the team's No. 1 runner all season, earning Mid-State Conference honors by placing second before ending the season by returning to state. Warne also earned all-conference honors by placing 10th as the Panthers' No. 3 runner while finishing 40th overall as the team's No. 2 runner at the section meet. Madison Steffel was the Panthers' No. 5 runner at the Mid-State meet by placing 30th and at the section meet by placing 80th.
Looking to take over the leadership role are senior Alex Kirlin, junior Whitney Steffel and freshman Haley Pickar. Steffel will serve as captain.
Whitney Steffel earned all-conference honors by placing ninth as the team's No. 2 runner and ended the season as the No. 4 runner by finishing 54th at the section meet. Pickar was Park Rapids' No. 4 runner at the Mid-State meet by placing 15th for all-conference honorable mention honors and was the No. 3 runner at the section meet by finishing 45th. Kirlin rounded out Park Rapids' section team by finishing 95th.
Senior Karen Valencia and eighth grader Holly Johnson joined cross country for the first time while seventh grader Julia Harmon returns from last year's junior high team.
"After graduation, injury and choosing a different fall sport, our girls numbers are way down," said Johnson. "The girls are a great bunch and they have been getting after it so far. It would be nice to have more girls joining them."
Park Rapids took third at the conference meet with 66 points as Staples-Motley and Pequot Lakes tied for first with 54 points. Perham repeated as section champs with 41 points while Pelican Rapids earned the other state trip with a runner-up 68 points.
Johnson is looking for the girls to improve all season and is hoping to put together a full five-runner field by the end of the season.
"We are missing just a couple girls who really could have added to the success of the team," said Johnson. "My expectations for the girls are that they will improve as the season progresses and that they motivate themselves and each other to really work hard."
Boys return some experience
With only three runners returning from last year's section meet, Johnson will be looking for runners to step up and fill the other varsity spots for the boys.
Juniors Seth Breitweser and Ashton Clark and sophomore Keegan Moses return to lead the Panthers this spring. Senior Will Pickar also returns with plenty of varsity experience after missing last season with a broken leg. Pickar will serve as captain this fall.
Also returning from last year's team are senior Bryce James, freshman Owen Wagner and eighth grader Sam Warne. Rounding out the varsity and junior varsity roster are junior Gabe Bagstad, freshman Kyron Wohlenhaus and seventh grader Blaine Hensel.
That group has to fill in for Jacobi (who placed ninth at the conference meet, eighth at the section meet and 139th in his second trip to state), Jorgenson (who placed 19th at the Mid-State meet and 28th at the section meet), Christenson (who placed 43rd at the conference meet and 77th at the section meet) and Carlson (who placed 46th at the Mid-State meet and 106th at the section meet). That group of seniors led the Panthers to sixth place at the conference meet with 126 points as Jacobi earned all-conference honors and seventh place at the section meet with 181 points. Detroit Lakes won the conference title with 22 points while Perham repeated as section champs with 34 points. Pequot Lakes was the section runner-up with 78 points to earn the other trip to state.
Breitweser, Moses and Clark held the team's No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 spots most of the season. Breitweser was the Panthers' No. 4 runner at the Mid-State meet by placing 35th and the team's No. 3 runner at the section meet by placing 40th. Moses was Park Rapids' No. 3 runner at the conference meet by placing 25th and the No. 4 runner at the section meet by finishing 50th. Clark was the Panthers' No. 5 runner at the conference meet by placing 38th and at the section meet by placing 69th. Breitweser competed in all 10 meets, Moses ran in nine meets and Clark competed in eight meets.
James, Wagner and Warne ran in one varsity meet each last fall and will compete with newcomers Bagstad, Wohlenhaus and Hensel for varsity spots.
"The guys are also working hard and have great attitudes," said Johnson. "My expectations are that a couple of these guys might surprise some people. I think they all look better than past years and I'm excited to see how the season goes."