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Runners filled roles, earned state trip

From the first meet of the season at Wadena, Lora Remus (from left), Tiffany Deitchler, Lydia Lutz, Alex Pederson, Morgan Olson, Shelby Pierce and Kaylee Hilmanowski were focused on getting the Park Rapids girls cross-country team back to the state Class A meet.

All six members of the Park Rapids girls cross-country team fulfilled their roles as the Panthers fulfilled their quest of returning to the state Class A meet.

Junior Lydia Lutz and sophomores Kaylee Hilmanowski and Morgan Olson were determined to get back to state after helping the Panthers claim the Section 8A runner-up trophy and finish fifth at last year's state meet.

Despite being new to the program, junior Shelby Pierce, sophomore Lora Remus and freshman Alex Pederson were just as determined to help the Panthers earn another state berth.

Those six delivered last Friday by leading the Panthers to another runner-up finish at the Section 8A meet at Bagley. Perham won the section title with 84 points while the Panthers were next with 102 points. Warroad (113) and Roseau (115) battled for third place.

All six knew this year's section meet was going to be close. At the season-ending Park Rapids Invitational, Perham led the way with 69 points while Warroad (91), Park Rapids (98) and Roseau (101) followed.

Finishing behind Warroad in that meet gave the Panthers incentive to finish ahead of the Warriors at the section meet.

"I was pretty confident we could do it," said Lutz. "I knew PR, Warroad and Roseau would be fighting for the No. 2 spot. If we stayed positive, I knew we could do it."

"It was a little nerve-racking," said Olson. "We knew Warroad and Roseau would be close to us. It depended on whoever showed up and wanted it more."

"I thought we could do it, but I wasn't 100 percent sure," said Hilmanowski. "We knew we had to beat Warroad and Roseau."

"I knew it would be really close," said Pierce. "I knew we had a good chance to make it. I was pretty confident we'd go."

"I was pretty confident," said Remus. "I knew we had what it took to get there. We just had to do it."

"I wasn't really worried," said Pederson. "I knew the team was capable of making it. It depended on how everyone ran."

Everyone ran well as the Panthers finished ahead of their two rivals.

At the Park Rapids Invitational, Lutz finished second while Warroad's Gretta Brunelle, Lindsay Fast and Susanna Heppner and Roseau's Anndi Klatt, JaNae Pahlen and Madeline Huglen all finished in the top-16 spots.

That changed at the section meet as Park Rapids relied on its usual strategy of Lutz and Pederson leading the way and Pierce, Hilmanowski, Olson and Remus running together to earn the school's sixth trip to state.

Lake of the Woods' Victoria Alexander won the section title by covering the 4,000-meter course in 15 minutes, 16 seconds. Lutz was second in 15:32 while Huglen, Staples-Motley's Lisa Reichert, Fast, Brunelle, Pelican Rapids' Emily Bakken, Perham's Cassie Beseman, Bagley/Fosston's Marissa Carlson and Pahlen claimed the other individual state berths.

Pederson finished 15th in 16:19 to finish ahead of Klatt and Heppner. Pierce was 27th in 16:59 and Hilmanowski was 29th in 17:02. Those two finished ahead of Warroad's Lynn Astrup. Olson was 39th in 17:18 and Remus was 41st in 17:25 to finish ahead of Roseau's Katie Erickson and Rose Gracza and Warroad's Tara Buss.

Finishing ahead of the Warroad and Roseau girls was the key to finishing second.

"I was just focused on making it to state," said Lutz. "I wanted to stay positive and do whatever I could to help the team make it to state."

"I just wanted to run how I usually run. As long as I can see Lydia, I'm doing all right," said Pederson. "I was aiming for top-10, but I'll take 15th in my first year. I ran my hardest and I was happy with that."

"We all had to work together as a team because every place counted," said Olson.

"I didn't think I'd be a big help this year because I hadn't run long distance before," said Pierce. "I just wanted to stay relaxed and catch all the girls wearing yellow (Warroad) and green (Roseau)."

"I wasn't looking at a set spot. I wanted to stick with Shelby, Morgan and Lora," said Hilmanowski. "We stick together and push each other."

"I was hoping I could help the team make it to state," said Remus, who ran on the 2008 and 2009 Fargo Shanley teams that qualified for the North Dakota state meet. "I wanted to run my best and try to beat the Warroad and Roseau girls."

Those six will be looking to run another solid race at this year's state Class A meet, which will be held today (Saturday) at St. Olaf College in Northfield. The Panthers tied for sixth place in 1976 and finished eighth in 1977 before placing 14th in 1997, 16th in 1998 and fifth last season.

At last year's state meet, the Panthers compiled 190 points as Lutz led the way by finishing 20th overall in 15:50, Hilmanowski was 96th overall in 16:56 as the Panthers' No. 4 runner and Olson finished 109th overall in 17:09 as the Panthers' No. 5 runner. Senior Tiffany Deitchler, who had to miss most of the season with an injury, was the Panthers' No. 6 runner last year by placing 129th in 17:37.

Last year, the Panthers entered the state meet ranked No. 8 among the Class A teams. This year, the Panthers are unranked while Perham enters in the No. 11 spot. The top-rated teams are Adrian, St. Cloud Cathedral, Dover-Eyota, Holy Family, Blake, LaCrescent, Waseca, Albany, Fairmont and Esko. All 10 of those teams qualified for state this year.

While overtaking some of those teams is going to be tough, the Panthers are looking to end the season on a positive note.

"I'm hoping to get my best time and finish in the top 15," said Lutz, who will be making her fourth straight individual appearance after placing 30th in 15:47 in 2007 and 34th in 15:36 in 2008. "I'm hoping all the girls stay positive and get their best times and we finish in the top 10."

"There are a lot of good girls down there. I'm going to run my race and whatever happens, happens," said Pederson. "The team took fifth last year. I want us to go top 3."

"It's exciting," said Pierce. "I'm hoping to get my best time and hoping the team gets in the top 10."

"I really wanted to go to state again. It was so fun last year and it's going to be more fun this year," said Hilmanowski. "Hopefully we can do better than fifth."

"I want to place better than I did last year and place better as a team," said Olson. "If we put our minds to it, we can do it."

"Our goal was to make it to state and we did it," said Remus. "I'm hoping we can get in the top 5 again. If I run my best, I'll be happy with that."

"A great finish at state would mean the girls ran their best times of the year and were happy with our results," said Park Rapids head coach Kerry Johnson. "I don't want to make any predictions, but I feel they are ready to do great things."