Boys showed improvement, peaked at Section 8A meet
Even though six of the 11 runners were seniors, Kerry Johnson inherited an inexperienced Park Rapids boys cross-country team. Only four of the 11 had competed in a varsity meet before while six were out for cross-country for the first time. The f...
Even though six of the 11 runners were seniors, Kerry Johnson inherited an inexperienced Park Rapids boys cross-country team.
Only four of the 11 had competed in a varsity meet before while six were out for cross-country for the first time.
The four returning veterans were seniors Derek Werner, Bryce Klasen, Kyle McBrady and Mike McDowell. Making an impact in their first season of running were senior Giacomo Siciliani, sophomore Zac Haugland, freshman Levi Erickson and eighth grader Jeff Johnson.
Even though the Panthers finished in the top half of the team standings in only one meet, Johnson was pleased with the work ethic and improvement her team showed all season.
"For the boys, it wasn't about being ranked or placing high as a team, but it was more about them personally meeting their goals and they did that," said Johnson. "Their times fell during the season with most of their best times near the end of the season. As their times improved, their team score also fell."
The Panthers opened the season by placing 11th at the 11-team Moorhead Invitational with 294 points, finishing eighth at the 12-team Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational with 215 points, tying for third at the seven-team Pelican Rapids Invitational with 94 points, finishing 10th at the 15-team Bagley/Fosston Invitational with 227 points and taking 14th at the 14-team Fergus Falls Invitational with 323 points.
Winning titles at those meets were Moorhead with 18 points, Perham with 28 points, Ottertail Central with 47 points, Bemidji with 21 points and Sartell with 54 points.
Park Rapids finished a respectable 28th at the 44-team Swain Invitational at Duluth with 720 points. Blake took first with 76 points.
At the Mid-State Conference meet, the Panthers finished fourth with 137 points. Pequot Lakes won the conference title with 30 points. Pequot Lakes ended the season ranked No. 4 in the state Class A poll and finished third at the state meet. The fourth-place finish was the Panthers' best since taking third in 2000.
The Panthers capped off the season by placing ninth at the 16-team Section 8A meet with 234 points. Perham won the section title with 31 points and Staples-Motley was second with 58 points. Perham was rated No. 5 in the final state poll and finished second at state while Staples-Motley placed 10th at the state meet.
"It was great to have a complete team and the boys improved all season," said Johnson. "They worked so hard and pushed themselves. They really pushed each other in practice and in races so they were very competitive, in a good way, amongst themselves."
Erickson was named the team's Most Valuable Runner after being the Panthers' No. 1 runner in six meets. Erickson led the team by placing 41st at Moorhead, 36th at Wadena, 28th at Bagley, 42nd at Fergus Falls, 102nd at Duluth and 23rd at the conference meet. Erickson was the No. 2 runner by taking 10th at Pelican Rapids and 28th at the section meet.
Werner was the Panthers' No. 1 runner at Pelican Rapids (placing seventh) and at the section meet (placing 26th) and was the No. 2 runner by finishing 44th at Wadena, 30th at Bagley, 45th at Fergus Falls, 137th at Duluth and 24th at the Mid-State meet.
Klasen and Siciliani were the team's No. 3 and No. 4 runners most of the season.
Klasen, who was named the Panthers' Hardest Worker, was the No. 2 runner by placing 59th at Moorhead and the No. 3 runner by placing 58th at Bagley, 29th at the conference meet and 57th at the section meet. Klasen was the No. 4 runner at Wadena (placing 55th), Pelican Rapids (placing 22nd), Fergus Falls (placing 80th) and Duluth (placing 186th).
Siciliani, who earned the team's Most Improved award, was the No. 3 runner by finishing 61st at Moorhead, 53rd at Wadena, 21st at Pelican Rapids, 79th at Fergus Falls and 170th at Duluth. Siciliani was the Panthers' No. 4 runner at Bagley (taking 59th) and No. 5 runner at the conference meet (finishing 31st) and section meet (placing 64th).
Haugland, who received the team's Most Spirited honor, ended the season as the Panthers' No. 4 runner at the conference meet by placing 30th and at the section meet by finishing 59th. Haugland was also the No. 4 runner at Moorhead by placing 64th. In the other meets, Haugland was the No. 5 runner at Pelican Rapids (taking 34th), Bagley (finishing 71st) and Duluth (placing 193rd) and the No. 6 runner at Wadena (finishing 71st) and Fergus Falls (placing 89th).
McBrady battled injuries all season and was the Panthers' No. 5 runner at Moorhead and Wadena by placing 69th in both races and the No. 6 runner at Pelican Rapids (taking 43rd), the conference meet (finishing 40th) and the section meet (placing 95th). McBrady also was the No. 7 runner at Duluth by finishing 233rd.
McDowell competed in two varsity races, finishing 80th overall and in the No. 6 spot in Bagley and 83rd overall and in the No. 5 spot at Fergus Falls.
Johnson earned a varsity spot late in the season and was the team's No. 6 runner at Duluth (placing 201st) and No. 7 runner at Fergus Falls (finishing 94th) and at the section meet (placing 96th).
Sophomore Matt Sullivan was the Panthers' No. 6 runner at Moorhead by placing 70th. Senior Kirt Leadbetter ran junior varsity while eighth grader Ben Kading competed in junior high races.
"It will be hard to replace the leadership of the seniors. The boys had a strong group of leaders and they will be hard to replace. They all worked so hard and showed the younger runners how to push themselves," said Johnson. "Bryce did a great job as captain. Derek led by pushing himself running and in the weight room. Giacomo came out for the first time and jumped right in and always worked so hard. Kyle was injured the whole season, but he continued to work hard and didn't complain. They all led by example and found the balance between fun and work."
The Panthers will return a young team next season with no seniors and only four runners with some varsity experience. If Johnson can recruit another group of talented newcomers, the Panthers have a chance to continue climbing up the team standings.
"The younger boys will have to jump up into the leadership role," said Johnson. "We need more guys out. Running can be so much fun. I'm hoping more guys come out for the team."