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Panthers accomplish goals

Despite lacking numbers, Todd Fritze expected a surplus of talent would lead the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team to another successful season.

Despite lacking numbers, Todd Fritze expected a surplus of talent would lead the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team to another successful season.

The Panthers peaked at the end of the season by rallying to tie for the Mid-State Conference title, qualifying four swimmers and one diver for the state Class A meet, breaking three school records and compiling 48 points to place 18th at state. In addition, the Panthers were named the state Class A academic champs after receiving the same honor at the Section 3A meet.

Leading the Panthers this season were the five state qualifiers: seniors Elliot Lawrence, Colton Storseth, Matt Lalli and Jake Sheeran and junior Bryce Klasen.

Storseth, Klasen, Lawrence and Sheeran met the state cut time in placing fifth at the section meet before breaking the school record with a 1:44.34 during preliminaries en route to placing 14th at state. That broke the school record of 1:44.91 set by Luke Berglund, Tyson Sievers, Clay Eberhart and Josh Winter in 2002.

Lawrence, who broke Eberhart's 2002 school record of 2:07.46 with a 2:07.37 en route to a runner-up showing in the 200 individual medley at the section meet, broke that mark again with a 2:05.32 to place sixth at state to bring home a medal.

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Lawrence and Storseth claimed state medals in the 100 butterfly by placing sixth and seventh, respectively. Lawrence finished fourth and Storseth was third at the section meet to advance.

Lalli earned his first trip to state in diving by placing fourth at the section meet. Lalli ended up placing 13th at the state meet.

Storseth set a school record in the 100 backstroke with a fourth-place time of 58.87 at the section meet to break Berglund's 2002 mark of 58.94. At the state meet, Storseth missed advancing to the finals by placing 18th during preliminaries.

The 48 points were the second most scored by the Panthers at the state meet, trailing only the 65 points compiled in 2002.

"We fell a little short of where we wanted to place at the section meet, but other than that we reached all of our goals," said Fritze. "We won our invitational for the third year in a row, we won the conference for the third year in a row, we got some kids to state, we had three all-state swims and we scored the second-most points ever at the state meet. It was a very successful season."

Also helping the Panthers swim to a successful season were seniors John Kading and Nate Schmidgall; juniors Levi Dickinson, Kyle McBrady and Devon Ondracek; sophomore Jared Storseth; freshmen Nick Belfiori, Jon Koch, Zach Lohmeier and Kevin Merfeld; eighth graders Sam Goebel, Jesse Koch and Ryan McBrady; and seventh grader Zach Eystad.

That group helped Park Rapids go 3-3 in dual meets with wins over Perham (93-90), Detroit Lakes (192-121) and Thief River Falls (101-76) and losses to Sauk Centre/Melrose (102-80 and 112-74) and Bemidji (95-83).

The Panthers also placed sixth at the Fergus Falls Invitational, third at the Detroit Lakes Invitational and eighth at the Section 3A True Team meet. The Panthers compiled 557 points to win the title at the Park Rapids Invitational before tying Perham for the Mid-State title with 118 points. Park Rapids then compiled 179 points to finish seventh out of 12 teams at the Section 3A meet.

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At the conference meet, Lawrence won the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle, Sheeran won the 50 freestyle, and Colton Storseth won the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke to earn all-conference honors. Lawrence, Sheeran, Storseth and Ondracek also swam on the conference champion 400 freestyle relay team.

Earning all-conference honorable mention honors with runner-up efforts were Sheeran in the 100 freestyle, Klasen in the 100 breaststroke and Lalli in diving. The 200 medley relay team of Lawrence, Sheeran, Storseth and Klasen also took second as did the 200 freestyle relay team of Klasen, Lalli, Ondracek and Kading.

Also placing at the section meet were Klasen in the 200 individual medley (12th); Merfeld in the 500 freestyle (10th); the 200 freestyle relay team of Klasen, Ondracek, Kading and Lawrence (ninth); Klasen (sixth) and Sheeran (seventh) in the 100 breaststroke; and the 400 freestyle relay team of Ondracek, Lalli, Goebel and Jared Storseth (ninth).

The other section competitors were Merfeld (26th), Belfiori (30th) and Goebel (34th) in the 200 freestyle; Sheeran (18th), Ondracek (25th) and Kading (30th) in the 50 freestyle; Ondracek (22nd) and Jared Storseth (24th) in the 100 freestyle; Goebel (18th) and Belfiori (23rd) in the 500 freestyle; Jared Storseth in the 100 backstroke (21st); and Kyle McBrady in the 100 breaststroke (23rd).

Lawrence was named the team's Most Valuable after leading the team with 356.50 points. In addition to his school record in the 200 individual medley, Lawrence ranks third all-time in the 100 butterfly and 500 freestyle, ninth in the 100 freestyle, and 10th in the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke.

Colton Storseth, who was named the Panthers' Most Dedicated/Hardest Worker, was second on the team with 342.50 points. Storseth holds the school record in the 100 backstroke and moved up to the No. 2 spot in the 100 butterfly and the No. 10 spot in the 200 individual medley.

Klasen compiled 288.75 points for third on the team and is rated No. 5 in the 100 breaststroke and No. 6 in the 200 individual medley in school history.

Sheeran was fourth in points with 245.25 and will graduate as the school record-holder in the 100 breaststroke.

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Lalli finished the season with 203.75 points and climbed to the No. 2 spot for 11 dives and the No. 3 spot for six dives in school history. Lalli was named the Section 3A Senior Diver of the Year.

Ondracek tallied 162.75 points this season and was named the team's Most Spirited.

Merfeld moved to the No. 7 spot all-time in the 500 freestyle and finished the season with 158.50 points.

Goebel (113.75) and Jared Storseth (106.75) also topped 100 points this winter while Kyle McBrady (86.75), Belfiori (77.25), Lohmeier (74), Kading (53.25), Ryan McBrady (52.75), Schmidgall (43.50), Eystad (29), Jesse Koch (19), Jon Koch (16) and Dickinson (7) also played key roles on the varsity this year. Lohmeier climbed to the No. 7 spot all-time for 11 dives while Kading was named the team's Most Improved.

"This was probably the easiest team to coach I've ever had," said Fritze. "Our philosophy is team first and individuals second. These guys bought into that philosophy and put the team ahead of themselves."

Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers will lose four veterans in Lalli, Lawrence, Sheeran and Colton Storseth and two first-year swimmers in Kading and Schmidgall. While Fritze knows he can't replace that talent and leadership, he's counting on the Panthers to put another competitive group in the pool next winter.

"We received great leadership from the seniors. We're going to have some big holes to fill," said Fritze. "Swimming is a numbers game and we have to get our numbers up. We'll need our younger kids to step up next year. We might struggle with depth, but we have some good quality guys coming back. I'm always optimistic. You can never count us out."

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