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Panthers ready to meet high expectations in pool

After qualifying for the state meet last season, senior Maija Hovelsrud will provide leadership for the Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team this season. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

The lofty goals remain the same for the Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team.

Despite relying on underclassmen to lead the way, the Panthers turned in a successful season last fall by going 6-2 in dual meets, placing fourth at the Section 8A True Team meet, finishing second at the Mid-State Conference meet and placing sixth at the Section 8A meet. The highlight of the season was sending a swimmer to the state Class A meet for the 23rd consecutive season.

Head coach Todd Fritze is counting on his team to contend for the conference title and moving up in the section standings.

"We have more experience than last year, but we're still a very young team," said Fritze. "We have a lot of potential, but we only have 19 girls, so depth is going to hurt us. We're still in a building phase, but we still have high expectations for the season."

Leading the Panthers this season are the 14 returning varsity swimmers and divers, led by seniors Maija Hovelsrud and Jordan Klemmer. Hovelsrud kept the Panthers' state streak going by qualifying for state in the 100-yard breaststroke. Also back from last year's team are juniors Katie Eischens and Olivia Ulvin; sophomores Jess Kaseman, Autumn Mitchell, Mary Rose Nichols and Chloe Voigt; freshmen Savana Damar, Madi Robbins, Liesel Smee, Ellie Ulvin and Aleah Voigt; and eighth grader Allie Offerdahl.

Hovelsrud was the Panthers' only all-conference swimmer after winning the 100 breaststroke at the Mid-State meet. Hovelsrud was also an all-conference honorable mention swimmer by joining Ellie Ulvin, Smee and Klemmer on the third-place 200 medley relay team. Also earning all-conference honorable mention honors last season were Ellie Ulvin (second in the 100 butterfly), Olivia Ulvin (second in the 500 freestyle and third in the 200 freestyle), and Smee (third in the 200 individual medley and third in the 500 freestyle). Ellie Ulvin, Klemmer and Olivia Ulvin also swam on the 400 freestyle relay team that placed third to receive all-conference honorable mention honors. Detroit Lakes won the conference title with 565 points while Park Rapids followed with 320 points.

Detroit Lakes also won the Section 8A True Team title with 1,918.50 points as Bemidji (1,857), Thief River Falls (1,197.50) and Park Rapids (1,157) followed. Bemidji captured the Section 8A title with 421 points as Detroit Lakes (384.50), Grand Rapids (318), Fergus Falls (242), Crookston (205.50) and the Panthers (141) followed.

Hovelsrud was the section runner-up in the 100 breaststroke and placed 14th at the state meet. Also advancing to the finals individually at the section meet were Ellie Ulvin (sixth in the 100 butterfly) and Olivia Ulvin (seventh in the 500 freestyle and eighth in the 200 freestyle). Ellie Ulvin, Klemmer and Olivia Ulvin swam on the 200 freestyle relay team that placed fifth and the 400 freestyle relay team that placed sixth.

Qualifying for the consolation finals at the section meet were Hovelsrud (10th in the 100 butterfly), Eischens (11th in diving), Ellie Ulvin (13th in the 50 freestyle), Robbins (14th in the 500 freestyle and 16th in the 200 freestyle), Klemmer (16th in the 100 freestyle) and Smee (16th in the 500 freestyle).

The other section competitors returning are Kaseman (23rd in the 200 freestyle and 22nd in the 100 breaststroke), Chloe Voigt (24th in the 200 individual medley and 29th in the 100 breaststroke), Damar (26th in the 50 freestyle and 25th in the 100 freestyle), Aleah Voigt (18th in the 500 freestyle and 21st in the 100 backstroke) and Nichols (26th in the 100 breaststroke).

Ellie Ulvin led the Panthers by scoring 334 points and was followed by Olivia Ulvin (287.50), Hovelsrud (267), Klemmer (227.50), Smee (222.50), Robbins (160.50), Aleah Voigt (135.50), Damar (125), Kaseman (124), Chloe Voigt (94.50), Eischens (80), Nichols (73.50), Offerdahl (29.50) and Mitchell (23). Hovelsrud moved up to the No. 4 spot all-time in the 100 breaststroke, Ellie Ulvin moved up to the No. 8 spot in the 100 butterfly and Eischens moved up to the No. 10 spot in diving.

Also looking to contribute on the varsity this season are seventh graders Natalie Backmann, Massie Lee, Morgan Swanson, Emma Vrieze and Maria Wagner.

That group will be looking to fill spots left by the graduation of Lizzie Bannerman, Jasmine Cease, Olivia Fischer and Trinah Szafranski. Szafranski rounded out the 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay teams at the section meet while placing 12th in the 200 freestyle and 100 freestyle. Fischer placed 16th in diving while Bannerman (50 freestyle and 100 freestyle) and Cease (200 individual medley and 100 butterfly) also competed at the section meet.

"We had good summer. Quite a few girls swam most of the summer, so we should be improved," said Fritze, who will be assisted by Kristi Goochey and Megan Helms. "Last year you could see how young we were, especially at the section meet. This year I'm hoping we have a different mentality of how we approach everything. We're going to have to work hard and battle for everything we get. I'm expecting a good season. We're going in with the goal of swimming fast from the start and hopefully we'll shock some people."