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Penning, Erickson, Schirmers, Creager still have goals to achieve

Representing the Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team at the state Class A meet are (from left) Emily Creager, Kyja Penning, Mandy Schirmers and Katherine Erickson. All four advanced in the 200-yard medley relay while Penning qualified in diving and the 100 butterfly and Erickson advanced in the 100 backstroke. (Vance Carlson / Enterprise)

Kyja Penning was a little disappointed at last year's Section 8A girls swimming and diving meet.

Even though Penning qualified for the state Class A meet in diving for the second year in a row, she missed out on qualifying in the 200-yard medley relay and 100-yard butterfly.

Entering her final section meet, Penning was determined to go to state in all three events.

The Park Rapids senior achieved that goal in helping the Panthers win the Section 8A team title last Saturday at Warroad.

"I was really hoping to go in the relay, in diving and in the 100 fly," said Penning. "I wanted to go out with no regrets. I was so nervous, but after the medley I kind of relaxed. It was the perfect way to end the season."

Penning joined freshman Katherine Erickson, sophomore Mandy Schirmers and freshman Emily Creager on the 200 medley relay team that finished second in 1:55.90. Penning later qualified for state in diving by tying for third place with 304 points. Penning capped off her final section meet by qualifying for state in the 100 butterfly with a third-place time of 1:02.03. That time was below the state cut time of 1:02.71.

In addition, Erickson qualified for state by winning the 100 backstroke in 1:03.65 as the Panthers had a chance to reach the state finals in four events. The state Class A meet concludes today (Saturday) at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

The Panthers sent a medley relay team to state for the first time since 2005 with a runner-up finish last Saturday.

Erickson (with a 30.14 in the backstroke), Schirmers (with a 32.99 in the breaststroke), Penning (with a 27.36 in the butterfly) and Creager (with a 25.82 in the freestyle) finished second during preliminaries with a 1:56.31. That was below the state cut time of 1:57.38. Fergus Falls took first with a 1:54.14.

In the finals, Erickson opened with a 30.04 in the backstroke, Schirmers followed with a 32.80 in the backstroke, Penning clocked a 27.10 in the butterfly and Creager went 25.96 in the freestyle as the Panthers clocked a 1:55.90 for second place. Fergus Falls set a section record with a winning time of 1:51.34 while Thief River Falls was third in 1:59.46.

"Last year it was tough taking third," said Penning, who joined Schirmers on the medley relay team that finished with a 1:59.99 last year. "This year I felt awesome. My taper worked. I was so pumped after the relay made it."

"We had a lot of confidence," said Schirmers. "(After preliminaries) we were pretty sure we could do it. We wanted to drop another second, and we did. I really wanted to get to state in the medley. It was a big relief to make it."

"I didn't know what to expect," said Erickson. "It was exciting when we made the state cut time. I was just hoping we'd drop more time."

"I didn't think I was going to swim the medley. It was a big surprise when I found out," said Creager. "I thought our chances were really good. After we finished second in preliminaries, I thought we would make it for sure."

Penning put herself in perfect position to qualify for state in diving for the third year in a row by tallying 217.50 points during Friday's first eight dives. Detroit Lakes' Shayna Dugger was first with 235.05 points and Bemidji's Jana Hedstrom was second with 222.20 points. Bre Halbur of Detroit Lakes was in fourth place with 214.20 points and Warroad's Kayla Colden was fifth with 209.90 points with three dives remaining.

"It was a long day and I was really tired. I had some good dives, but I messed up some dives," said Penning. "I felt confident being in third place."

During Saturday's finals, Penning secured a top-four finish and a state berth by tying Hedstrom for third place. Dugger repeated as the section champ with 340.05 points while Halbur finished second with 316.65 points. Colden took fifth with 295.40 points.

"I knew I'd go again in diving," said Penning, who was the section runner-up last season with 342.30 points. "I was on in the finals, so I was happy about that."

With two state berths in hand, Penning was looking to cap off her final section meet by qualifying for state in the 100 butterfly.

During the preliminaries, Penning broke her own school record of 1:02.65 with a runner-up 1:01.94. Detroit Lakes' Melissa Paakh took first in 1:00.13 while Fergus Falls' Susie Kitzman was third in 1:02.60.

In the finals, Paakh broke her own section record with a winning time of 59.06 and Kitzman was second in 1:00.93. Penning took third, but her 1:02.03 topped the state cut time as the Park Rapids senior earned her first state trip in an individual swimming event.

"Last year I had a good preliminary time, but I didn't have a good time in the finals," said Penning, who clocked a school record 1:02.97 during last year's preliminaries to top the state cut time of 1:03.29 before settling for fifth place in the finals with a 1:04.11. "This year I beat the state cut time in preliminaries and I wanted to beat that time in the finals. It was a relief to get it."

Erickson put the finishing touches on an impressive section meet by earning the Panthers' fourth and final state berth by winning the 100 backstroke.

During preliminaries, Erickson led the way with a 1:03.15. That topped her previous best of 1:05.78 and was below the state cut time of 1:04.29. It also moved Erickson past Katie Gravalin (1:03.89) and Amy Teigen (1:03.30) into the No. 2 spot in school history behind Brandi Werner's 1:00.87.

In the finals, Erickson duplicated that performance with a winning time of 1:03.65. That was a huge improvement over last year when Erickson finished ninth with a 1:09.20.

"I wasn't expecting to make it to state, but I'm really happy to make it," said Erickson. "I was hoping to get third or fourth and make the state cut time. I felt really fast (during preliminaries) and that gave me a lot of confidence. I wanted to swim my hardest and get the state cut time again. It was awesome to get first."

Those four swimmers were looking to advance past Thursday's diving preliminaries and Friday's swimming preliminaries. The medley relay was seeded No. 21 out of 28 state qualifiers. Penning was tied for the No. 20 spot out of 32 divers and was seeded No. 21 out of 24 qualifiers in the 100 butterfly. Erickson was the No. 18 seed out of 26 qualifiers in the 100 backstroke.

"I hope we finish in the top 16 and make it to the second day," said Schirmers.

"We're going to try and make it to the finals," said Creager. "We can still drop more time."

"I hope I can drop a little time and make it to the second day," said Erickson. "I want to get under 30 in my split (in the medley) and get under a 1:03 in the backstroke. My goal is to get in the top eight."

"I'm happy to be going in three events," said Penning, who finished 16th with 242.30 points as a sophomore and became the first diver in school history to win a state medal by placing eighth with 289.75 points last season. "I want to make the finals in both my swimming events and come home with another medal in diving."