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Park Rapids girls earn first state trip as a team since 1998

Park Rapids' Summer Ellefson (from left), Tiffany Deitchler, Victoria Lutz, Kaylee Hilmanowski, Morgan Olson, Lydia Lutz and Sophie Shogren took off from the starting line at Friday's Section 8A meet at Bagley. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
Lydia Lutz led a group of runners during Friday's Section 8A cross-country meet at Bagley. Lutz finished second overall in helping Park Rapids to a runner-up finish and a trip to the state Class A meet. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Kerry Johnson couldn't wait for the Section 8A cross-country meet to arrive.

Once it started, the head coach of the Park Rapids girls cross-country team couldn't wait for it to be over.

All season long, the Panthers were ranked as one of the top Class A teams in the state. Entering the section meet, the Panthers joined Perham as the two teams to beat for the two berths to the state meet. Perham was rated No. 1 in the state while the Panthers were ranked No. 8.

Both Perham and Park Rapids lived up to those expectations at Friday's Section 8A meet at Bagley. Perham captured the section title with 48 points and Park Rapids followed with 81 points. Warroad (107 points) and Staples-Motley (113 points) followed.

However, securing that state berth didn't come without some anxiety.

Leading up to the section meet, Johnson wondered if her runners could avoid injuries and the flu. During a snowstorm on the way to Bagley, Johnson was concerned about how her runners would perform in those conditions. During the 4,000-meter race at Twin Pines Golf Course, Johnson was worried about how well the Warroad and Staples-Motley runners were doing.

As it turned out, Johnson had nothing to worry about as the Panthers' entire seven-member team conquered the treacherous conditions to qualify for state for the first time since 1998.

"It is such a relief to get this team to state," said Johnson. "I was confident they had what it took to get to state, but strange things can happen. The weather was something they haven't really raced in. That could have thrown them, but it didn't. I was just so thankful they were all relatively healthy and ran good races. I wanted them to run with confidence and to show the other teams that their ranking all season wasn't a fluke. They are such a determined group. I knew they could handle the pressure. They earned it and they deserved it."

All seven runners - senior Victoria Lutz; juniors Tiffany Deitchler and Sophie Shogren; sophomores Lydia Lutz and Summer Ellefson; and freshmen Morgan Olson and Kaylee Hilmanowski - handled the pressure as the Panthers qualified for state as a team for the first time in 11 years.

Perham's Maddie McClellan backed up her No. 1 ranking in the state by clocking a winning time of 16:01. Lydia Lutz, the No. 8-ranked runner in the state, followed in 16:20 and Victoria Alexander of Lake of the Woods was third in 16:31. Staples-Motley's Kaytlin Roth was fourth in 16:45 and Victoria Lutz was fifth in 16:48.

Warroad had four runners in the next 10 spots, which caused some concern for Johnson. However, when Ellefson finished 17th in 17:46, Olson finished 27th in 18:18 and Hilmanowski finished 30th in 18:30, the Panthers had secured runner-up honors and a trip to state. Deitchler finished 31st in 18:32 and Shogren was 49th in 19:37 to complete Park Rapids' team.

"The strategy was for each to run the race she was capable of. I didn't want the girls to think too much about how important the race was, but rather to just go and run their own races. I didn't want them to second guess the fact that they were ready for anything that came their way," said Johnson. "They were ready. Once we saw what the weather looked like, running for PRs (personal records) was out the window. Times didn't matter; everyone was dealing with the same thing. Because of the weather, I told them it was a race they would never forget. Now they will remember it because of the weather and the fact that they earned a trip to state."

The Panthers will conclude the state meet with a 2 p.m. start at St. Olaf College in Northfield. Johnson is looking for her team to turn in another solid performance against the best runners in the state.

"I knew we had the talent before the season began and so it was great to see them build on their success week after week. The girls, as a team, always rose to the high expectations I had. Not every girl had her best race each and every week, but another girl would have her best race and step up and help the team," said Johnson. "The girls have shown that they can run with the best in the state. I just want them to go down there and do their best. They have a good chance to place. I hope that Lydia and Victoria run races they are capable of running. It's just an exciting time for the whole team. Getting to state is such an accomplishment and I just want them all to run races they're proud of. I can't really ask for anything more."

Warriors finish 18th

United North Central finished 18th with 515 points.

Leading the Warriors were Emily Keranen (97th in 22:43), Meg Isaacson (98th in 22:44), Jenny Johnson (100th in 22:48), Jill Isaacson (105th in 23:40) and Lindsey Josephson (115th in 28:51).

Team scores: Perham 48, Park Rapids 81, Warroad 107, Staples-Motley 113, Roseau 130, Lake of the Woods 138, Pequot Lakes 172, Thief River Falls 226, Pelican Rapids 238, East Grand Forks 292, Hawley/Ulen-Hitterdal 307, Pillager 349, Lake Park-Audubon 386, Pine River-Backus 402, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 413, Trek North 416, Frazee 491, United North Central 515. Incomplete teams: Bagley/Fosston, Wadena-Deer Creek.

State qualifiers

1, Maddie McClellan, Perham, 16:01. 2, Lydia Lutz, Park Rapids, 16:20. 3, Victoria Alexander, Lake of the Woods, 16:31. 4, Kaytlin Roth, Staples, 16:45. 5, Victoria Lutz, Park Rapids, 16:48. 6, Emma Pogrebas, Staples, 16:51. 7, Lynn Astrup, Warroad, 16:59. 8, Gretta Brunelle, Warroad, 17:01.

Park Rapids results

2, Lydia Lutz 16:20. 5, Victoria Lutz 16:48. 17, Summer Ellefson 17:46. 27, Morgan Olson 18:18. 30, Kaylee Hilmanowski 18:30. 31, Tiffany Deitchler 18:32. 49, Sophie Shogren 19:37.

United North Central results

97, Emily Keranen 22:43. 98, Meg Isaacson 22:44. 100, Jenny Johnson 22:48. 105, Jill Isaacson 23:40. 115, Lindsey Josephson 28:51.