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Swimmers' expectations stay high

Seniors (from left) Melissa Haas, Leah Meinert and Taylor Ondracek return to lead a veteran Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team this season.

Some people were surprised when the Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team won the Section 8A title last season.

It won't surprise anyone if the Panthers defend their section title this fall.

Having 19 swimmers and divers returning from a team that went 6-1-1 in dual meets and won the school's fifth section title has head coach Todd Fritze expecting another successful season from the Panthers.

"This year is no different than any other year. Our expectations are high. We want to stay on top. Our goals are different, but our high expectations are never compromised. Excellence is expected," said Fritze, who will be assisted by Amie Westberg and diving coach Roman Horejsi. "We won't surprise anyone this year. Other coaches are saying to watch out for Park Rapids. I want our girls to be confident, but they can't buy into that. We did a lot of good things last year, but we haven't done anything yet this year."

In order to repeat as section champs, the Panthers will have to fill in the spots vacated by the graduation of Kyja Penning and Abby Hanson. Penning qualified for state in diving three times and competed at state in the 100-yard butterfly and 200 medley relay last season while Hanson was a section competitor in the 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley.

Looking to help replace those points will be the returning veterans: seniors Melissa Haas, Leah Meinert and Taylor Ondracek; juniors Mandy Schirmers and Allycia Zinke; sophomores Katherine Erickson, Emily Creager, Jessica Andersen, Heather Kniss, Elizabeth Nichols and Hannah Williams; freshmen Seri Erickson, Taylor Graham, Ellen Hoffman and Christina Mackley; and eighth graders Emily Eystad, Jessie O'Hern, Danielle Lockrem and Lauren Rossman.

Providing depth for the Panthers will be junior diver Emily Klingenberg and seventh graders Kayla Andersen, Jada Current, Alyza Edevold, Paige Fritze, Mackenzie Hensel, Maya Johnson, Isabella Simonson, Tea Nyland, Ana Viloria and Carly Waggoner.

Schirmers (breaststroke), Erickson (backstroke) and Creager (freestyle) rounded out the 200 medley relay team that placed 19th at the state meet while Erickson placed 21st in the 100 backstroke at the state meet.

Those three earned all-section honors and are among the 13 swimmers and divers returning who competed at last year's section meet.

Erickson led the team in points with 365.25. Creager was third with 311.50 and was followed by Zinke (310.50), Schirmers (274.50), Meinert (268), Ondracek (250.50), Williams (250) and Haas (232). Rossman (141), Graham (103), Kniss (86.75), Hoffman (84), Andersen (82.50) and Mackley (59.50) also played key roles on the varsity and competed at the section meet. Of that group, Erickson, Schirmers, Creager. Zinke, Meinert, Rossman, Ondracek, Haas and Williams earned all-section honorable mention honors.

At the section meet, the 200 medley relay team advanced to state with a runner-up showing and Erickson qualified by winning the section title in the 100 backstroke.

Also placing at the section meet were Erickson in the 200 freestyle (sixth); Zinke (fourth) and Meinert (sixth) in the 200 individual medley; Rossman (eighth), Ondracek (ninth) and Williams (10th) in the 50 freestyle; Hoffman (11th) and Andersen (15th) in diving; Zinke (fourth) and Graham (11th) in the 100 butterfly; Creager (fifth), Haas (ninth) and Rossman (11th) in the 100 freestyle; Meinert (fourth) in the 500 freestyle; Ondracek (fourth) in the 100 backstroke; and Schirmers (fourth), Williams (fifth) and Haas (eighth) in the 100 breaststroke. Zinke, Meinert and Creager swam on the third-place 200 freestyle relay team while Erickson, Zinke, Schirmers and Zinke swam on the fourth-place 400 freestyle relay unit.

The other swimmers who competed at the section meet were Kniss (18th in diving, 22nd in the 50 freestyle) and Mackley (25th in both the 500 freestyle and 100 breaststroke.

Most of those swimmers also earned Mid-State Conference honors as the Panthers, who competed without Schirmers and Creager, finished second behind Perham/New York Mills.

Receiving all-conference honors were Erickson, Williams and Zinke with a winning time in the 200 medley relay. Earning all-conference honorable mention honors were Meinert (third in the 200 freestyle), Zinke (second in the 200 individual medley and third in the 100 butterfly), Erickson (third in the 50 freestyle and second in the 100 backstroke) and Ondracek (third in the 100 backstroke). Rossman, Haas, Williams and Meinert earned all-conference honorable mention honors by placing second in the 200 freestyle relay while Erickson, Meinert and Zinke swam on the 400 freestyle relay team that placed second to earn all-conference honorable mention honors.

Several swimmers also moved up on the school's all-time list. That group includes Erickson (No. 2 in the 100 backstroke with a 1:03.15 and No. 7 in the 200 freestyle with a 2:07.27), Creager (No. 7 in the 100 freestyle with a 57.18 and No. 9 in the 200 freestyle with a 2:08.99), Zinke (No. 3 in the 100 butterfly with a 1:04.04 and No. 7 in the 200 individual medley with a 2:26.28), Schirmers (No. 2 in the 100 breaststroke with a 1:11.88 and No. 4 in the 200 individual medley with a 2:24.19), Meinert (No. 4 in the 500 freestyle with a 5:40.79), Ondracek (No. 6 in the 100 backstroke with a 1:04.48) and Williams (No. 9 in the 100 breaststroke with a 1:14.44).

Also scoring points on varsity last season were Seri Erickson (28.50), Eystad (28.50), O'Hern (21.50), Lockrem (13.50) and Nichols (12.50).

Looking to dethrone the Panthers and claim the section title this season will be the teams that followed Park Rapids in the section standings last fall: Fergus Falls, Bemidji, Detroit Lakes, Warroad, Thief River Falls, Perham, Crookston and Fosston/Bagley.

If the Panthers live up to their potential, Fritze likes his team's chances of contending for both the conference and section team titles and qualifying for the state meet in several events.

"To reach our goals, we have to stay healthy and we need everybody to buy into the team philosophy and put the team first," said Fritze. "We have the potential to be one of the best teams, if not the best team, in Park Rapids history. It's all up to the girls."