Boys track team relying on new talent
Lacking numbers prevented the Park Rapids boys track and field team from contending for titles last season.
Lacking experience could prevent the Panthers from challenging the top teams in meets this spring.
The Panthers ended last season with only 13 athletes. Despite the lack of depth, the Panthers ended the season by placing fourth at the Mid-State Conference meet with 55 points, fourth at the Subsection 8-29A meet with 87.50 points and 15th at the Section 8A meet with 13.50 points.
Of the 13 athletes who finished the season, only six return this season and only four of those scored points at the subsection meet.
Even though the Panthers lack experience, head coach Patrick Deegan is counting on a group of first-year competitors to help the team score more points this season.
A total of 22 athletes reported for the first weeks of practice. Of that group, 15 will compete on varsity for the first time. The new crop, combined with a talented group of veterans, gives the Panthers plenty of promising potential this spring.
"We have a lot of question marks," said Deegan, who will be assisted by Greg Kuehn. "We have some experience coming back and we have some new kids who will really help out. We just need to get the guys in competition to get some times and see what they can do."
Leading the Panthers this season are the six returning veterans: seniors Caleb Atkins, Jake Grimes and Sean Hayes and sophomores Forrest Drury, Brock Fritze and Scott Wolff. Grimes, Hayes and Fritze return as the team's leading point scorers from last season.
Grimes returns in the hurdles after placing third in the 110 and 300 events at the conference meet, finishing third in the 110s and fourth in the 300s at the subsection meet, and finishing seventh in the 300 hurdles at the section meet. Grimes also ran on the 4 x 400 relay team that finished fourth at the conference meet, first at the subsection meet and eighth at the section meet.
Hayes returns to lead the relays after running on the subsection champion 4 x 400 and 4 x 800 relay teams. The 4 x 800 relay took sixth and the 4 x 400 relay finished eighth at the section meet. Hayes also placed sixth in the 200 dash at the conference meet and ran on the 4 x 400 relay team that placed fourth at the Mid-State meet. Hayes also scored points in the 4 x 100 relay and 4 x 200 relay. Hayes is recovering from a blood clot and will miss at least the first month of the season.
Fritze returns as the Panthers' top sprinter after placing second in the 200 and third in the 100 at the conference meet and third in the 200 and fourth in the 100 at the subsection meet. Fritze was also a member of the 4 x 400 relay team that placed at the conference, subsection and section meets. Fritze, who earned team MVP honors last season, also scored points in the 400 and 4 x 200 relay.
Forrest Drury placed in the conference meet by finishing sixth in the 400 and running on the 4 x 800 relay team that finished fourth and the 4 x 100 relay unit that took sixth. At the subsection meet, Drury ran on the winning 4 x 800 relay and fourth-place 4 x 100 relay and competed on the 4 x 800 relay that finished sixth at the section meet. Drury also scored points in the 4 x 200 relay, 4 x 400 relay and pole vault last season.
Wolff returns after scoring points in the 110 hurdles, triple jump and 4 x 800 relay last season. Atkins will be seeking to score points in the discus and shot put.
Looking to fill in for last year's senior group of Mike McDowell (who finished fifth in the high jump at the section meet), Devon Ondracek (who finished sixth in the discus at the section meet), Tom Drury (who tied for eighth in the pole vault at the section meet) and Trevor Matheny (who qualified for the section meet in the shot put) will be seniors John Drury and AJ Spears; juniors Travis Deitchler, Taylor Kimball and Colin Vaadeland; sophomores Jeff Hemenway, Ryan McBrady and Logan Schmaus; freshmen Edgar Guajouda, Blake Montzka, Nick Schulz, Fred Stinar and Jake Waggoner; and eighth graders Austin Carlson, Kurt Fritze and Kalvin Hagan.
John Drury and Spears missed last season with injuries. Drury will compete in the sprints and relays while Spears will provide depth in the distance events.
Vaadeland, Schulz, Carlson and Fritze will compete in sprints while Deitchler, Kimball, McBrady, Guajouda and Waggoner will run middle distance and distance. Schmaus and Stinar will compete in the throwing events while Carlson and Fritze will compete in the jumping events.
"We're still shuffling kids around. We have the potential to put some good relays together and we should see a huge improvement in the distance events," said Deegan. "We have some good athletes. I see a lot of potential there."