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Depth keys swimmers' successful season

Increasing numbers helped increase the success for the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team.

The Panthers increased their numbers to 35 and 28 of those placed in a varsity meet during the season. That internal competition for varsity spots helped the Panthers go 4-2 in dual meets, finish fifth at the Section 5A True Team meet, earn runner-up honors at the Mid-State Conference meet, finish eighth at the Section 3A meet, break two school records and qualify five swimmers in four events for the state Class A meet.

Seniors Sam Goebel and Ryan McBrady, juniors Jake Waggoner and Zach Eystad, and sophomore Connor Smythe capped off the season by advancing to the state Class A meet. Smythe advanced to the finals and finished 16th in the 100-yard backstroke with a school-record time of 57.47. Waggoner finished 20th in the 500 freestyle and joined Goebel, Eystad and Smythe on the 200 freestyle relay team that placed 19th. That relay team broke the school record with a 1:32.80 at the section meet. McBrady capped off his senior season by placing 35th in the 100 breaststroke.

The Panthers opened the season by placing third at the six-team Fergus Falls Invitational with 333 points. Fergus Falls won the team title with 451 points.

In their first three dual meets, the Panthers posted rare wins against Melrose/Sauk Centre (98-88) and Bemidji (105-79) before defeating Perham (101-78).

After claiming runner-up honors at the four-team Detroit Lakes Invitational with 334 points (the host Lakers took first with 482 points), Melrose/Sauk Centre got revenge with a 99-87 victory.

Park Rapids placed fifth at the seven-team Section 5A True Team meet with 803 points (Alexandria won the section title with 1,155 points), dropped a dual meet to Detroit Lakes (124-62), defeated Thief River Falls (101-79) and placed second at the three-team Park Rapids Invitational with 606 points (Detroit Lakes won the title with 635 points).

Detroit Lake followed by winning the Mid-State Conference title with 478 points as the Panthers finished second with 419 points.

At the Section 3A meet, the Panthers compiled 141 points to finish eighth out of 14 teams. Fergus Falls captured the section title with 344 points.

The Panthers capped off the season by scoring 1 point and placing 34th at the state Class A meet.

"We made some big strides this year," said Park Rapids head coach Todd Fritze. "We went 4-2 in dual meets, finished eighth at the section meet and had four swims at the state meet and one of those made it to the finals. We're starting to turn it around."

In addition to the five state qualifiers, the Panthers received points from 23 other swimmers and divers. Also contributing to the Panthers' success this season were seniors Tyler Booge, Jamison Nessman and James Wells; juniors Ben Kading, Kyle Merfeld, Chris Shaw and Fred Stinar; sophomores Spencer Adolphson, Calvin Bateman, Kurt Fritze, Kalvin Hagan, Steve Osterman, Nathan Rak and Iain Wallace; freshmen Tyler Breitweser, Matt Konshok, Dillon Schroeder and Andrew Zinke; eighth graders Andrew Baldwin, Bobby Bruce, Marcus McKeever and Hunter Utke; and seventh graders Jack Bateman, Sam Eystad, Jacob Gruis, Connor Shaw, Sean Vedbraaten, Jack Walsh, Tim Walsh and Steven Wattenhofer.

At the Mid-State Conference meet, Goebel, Smythe, Waggoner and Zach Eystad earned all-conference honors by winning the 200 freestyle relay and Hagan earned all-conference honors by taking first in diving. Receiving all-conference honorable mention honors by taking second were Smythe, McBrady, Stinar and Fritze in the 200 medley relay; Goebel in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle; Smythe in the 100 backstroke; and Goebel, Waggoner, McBrady and Zach Eystad in the 400 freestyle relay. Placing third to also receive all-conference honorable mention honors were McBrady in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke, Zach Eystad in the 50 freestyle, Stinar in diving and Waggoner in the 500 freestyle.

Highlighting the section meet were Waggoner claiming runner-up honors in the 500 freestyle; Goebel, Smythe, Waggoner and Zach Eystad placing fourth in the 200 freestyle relay; Smythe placing fifth and meeting the state-cut time in the 100 backstroke; and McBrady placing seventh and meeting the state-cut time in the 100 breaststroke to advance to state.

Also placing for the Panthers at the section meet were McBrady in the 200 individual medley (sixth); Zach Eystad (sixth), Goebel (12th) and Smythe (15th) in the 50 freestyle; Hagan (ninth) and Stinar (15th) in diving; Goebel in the 100 freestyle (seventh); and Waggoner, Kading, Fritze and McBrady in the 400 freestyle relay (11th).

The other section competitors for the Panthers were Waggoner (17th), Kading (23rd) and Chris Shaw (34th) in the 200 freestyle; Fritze in the 50 freestyle (25th); Stinar (29th) and Adolphson (36th) in the 100 butterfly; Zach Eystad in the 100 freestyle (23rd); Schroeder (22nd), Chris Shaw (27th) and Kading (29th) in the 500 freestyle; and Booge (21st) in the 100 breaststroke.

Goebel was named the Panthers' Most Valuable and shared the team's Most Dedicated/Hardest Worker award after leading the team with 342.50 points. Goebel ended his high school career rated No. 3 in the 100 freestyle (50.19), No. 7 in the 200 freestyle (1:58.44), No. 8 in the 50 freestyle (23.35), No. 8 in the 500 freestyle (5:26.40) and No. 9 in the 200 individual medley (2:17.41) in school history.

Smythe was second on the team in points with 314 and broke the school record in the 100 backstroke.

Zach Eystad scored 307 points this season for the No. 3 spot on the team and climbed to the No. 6 spot in the 50 freestyle (23.25)

McBrady ended his senior season with 304 points and moved up to the No. 5 spot in the 200 individual medley (2:11.89) and 100 breaststroke (1:04.30). McBrady shared the team's Most Dedicated/Hardest Worker award and received the team's Spirit Award.

Waggoner was fifth on the team in points with 246 and moved up to the No. 3 spot in the 500 freestyle (5:11.72) and the No. 8 spot in the 200 freestyle (1:58.64).

Hagan scored 209.50 points this season and took over the No. 4 spot (281.55 points for 11 dives) and the No. 6 spot (182.45 points for six dives) in diving.

Kading was seventh on the team in points with 173.50 and was followed by Fritze (171 points), Breitweser (125), Chris Shaw (119), Stinar (115.50) and Adolphson (115).

Stinar moved up to the No. 5 spot in diving with 240.25 points for 11 dives.

Also scoring points this season were Osterman (98), Wells (97), Schroeder (83.50), Konshok (65.50), Bruce (58), Utke (46.50), Merfeld (31), Zinke (26.50), Wallace (24), Jack Walsh (17), McKeever (7), Calvin Bateman (5.50), Connor Shaw (4.50), Jack Bateman (.50) and Tim Walsh (.50). Wattenhofer was named the team's Most Improved.

"When you have 35 kids, you have kids fighting for spots and that's only going to improve the team," said Fritze. "Our high school kids stepped it up and the middle school kids were very coachable. Quantity breeds quality. It was a good season for us."

Even though the Panthers graduate five key swimmers, Fritze is counting on his team to continue to improve next season.

"I'm excited about where the program is at and the direction it's going," said Fritze. "We're coming off a great season, but the kids have to put the time in if we want to be where we want to be next year. I'm going to have high expectations again next year. The kids are going to have to work hard if we're going to get better."