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Swimmers expecting to improve with depth

Seniors (from left) Kevin Merfeld, Nick Belfiori and Zach Lohmeier are among 16 swimmers returning to lead the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team this season.

One thing Todd Fritze has been battling recently is a lack of depth on the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team.

That shouldn't be a problem for the next few years.

Last season, the Panthers had only 17 swimmers on the varsity rosters. Of those 17, seven competed on varsity for the first time.

This year, the Panthers return 16 of those swimmers. Only Jared Storseth (who finished second on the team with 171.50 points) graduated. In addition, 10 new swimmers will be competing for the first time.

Those 26 swimmers will give the Panthers more flexibility as Park Rapids tries to improve on an 0-6 record in dual meets, a third-place finish at the Mid-State Conference meet and a 13th-place showing at the Section 3A meet.

"Having more numbers gives us more swimmers to choose from, which is going to make us better," said Fritze, who will be assisted by Bryan Hirt, Kristi Smythe and Roman Horesji. "We'll see how everything shakes out with all the new guys. Once they learn the strokes, we'll be a better balanced team."

Leading the Panthers this season will be the 16 returning swimmers: seniors Nick Belfiori, Zach Lohmeier and Kevin Merfeld; juniors Tyler Booge, Sam Goebel and Ryan McBrady; sophomores Zach Eystad, Ben Kading, Josh Johnson, Fred Stinar and Jake Waggoner; freshmen Spencer Adolphson, Steven Osterman and Connor Smythe; and eighth graders Matt Konshok and Dillon Schroeder. Lohmeier and Goebel will serve as captains.

Merfeld received Mid-State Conference honors by winning the title in the 500-yard freestyle while Goebel and McBrady earned all-conference honorable mention honors by placing second in the 500 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, respectively, at the conference meet. McBrady, Goebel and Belfiori also swam on the runner-up 200 medley relay team.

Also earning all-conference honors by placing third at the Mid-State meet were Belfiori in the 50 freestyle and Smythe in the 100 backstroke. Belfiori, Merfeld and Goebel swam on the third-place 200 freestyle relay team while Eystad, Johnson, McBrady and Merfeld took third in the 400 freestyle relay.

At the section meet, three individuals return who placed. That group features McBrady (10th in the 100 breaststroke), Goebel (13th in the 500 freestyle and 16th in the 200 freestyle) and Smythe (13th in the 100 backstroke).

Also competing at the section meet were Johnson (24th in the 500 freestyle and 31st in the 200 freestyle), Merfeld (20th in the 500 freestyle and 32nd in the 200 freestyle) Lohmeier (29th in the 200 individual medley), Belfiori (22nd in the 50 freestyle and 27th in the 100 freestyle), and Eystad (25th in the 100 backstroke).

McBrady, Goebel and Belfiori swam on the 200 medley relay that placed ninth; Belfiori, Eystad and Goebel swam on the 200 freestyle relay team that placed ninth; and Merfeld, Smythe, McBrady and Eystad swam on the 400 freestyle relay team that finished 13th at the section meet.

Goebel moved up to the No. 6 spot in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle while McBrady moved up to the No. 10 spot in the 100 breaststroke on the school's all-time list.

Goebel also led the team in points with 216.50 while Merfeld (169.50), McBrady (169), Belfiori (155.50), Smythe (119), Lohmeier (96), Booge (78), Johnson (77.50), Kading (67), Stinar (37), Osterman (28), Waggoner (26.50), Adolphson (21.50), Konshok (11.50) and Schroeder (8.50) followed.

Adding depth this season will be the first-year swimmers: junior James Wells; sophomore Christopher Shaw; freshmen Kalvin Hagan and Aaron Holk; eighth graders Tyler Breitweser and Andrew Zinke; and seventh graders Andrew Baldwin, Bobby Bruce, Marcus McKeever and Hunter Utke.

In addition to having more depth, the Panthers will be competing in diving again. Johnson, Stinar, Hagan, Holk, Breitweser and Konskok will dive this season.

"We're looking to put the boys team back on the map," said Fritze. "With all the new kids, it's going to be a learning process. I'm excited about the season. We're only going to get better."