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Panthers continue climbing to top

Corey Hill compares the progress of the Park Rapids girls track and field team to climbing a ladder. Hill's ultimate goal is for the Panthers to reach the top of the ladder by winning the Section 8A title and competing for the state Class A champ...

Corey Hill compares the progress of the Park Rapids girls track and field team to climbing a ladder.

Hill's ultimate goal is for the Panthers to reach the top of the ladder by winning the Section 8A title and competing for the state Class A championship.

The Panthers took another step this spring to fulfilling that quest.

In nine meets during the regular season, the Panthers finished first in four of them, took second once and placed third twice.

The Panthers then won the Subsection 8-29A title before tying for fifth place at the Section 8A meet. Park Rapids qualified for the state Class A meet in two events with eighth grader Lydia Lutz placing ninth in the 3,200-meter run to score 1 point. The 4 x 800 relay team of Lutz, freshman Sophie Shogren and sophomores Victoria Lutz and Hannah Wolff placed 10th to miss out on placing after setting a school record in that relay at the subsection meet.

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Challenging for meet titles and having 37 athletes earn a letter and 32 score points in a varsity meet capped off another successful season for the Panthers.

"I thought we had a great year. Our numbers were up again and we had a lot of talented athletes who worked hard and competed hard," said Hill. "We took another step in the right direction. We continue to move up the ladder. We're another rung closer to the top."

The Panthers opened the season by winning the 17-team Little Amik I Invitational at Bemidji State University with 76 points and followed by placing sixth out of 24 teams at the Little Amik II Invitational at BSU with 39 points. East Grand Forks won that meet with 52 points.

Park Rapids opened the outdoor season by claiming runner-up honors at the 15-team Thief River Falls Invitational with 74 points. East Grand Forks led the field with 105 points.

A pair of first-place showings followed as the Panthers compiled 177.50 points to claim the team title at the 10-team Beaver Relays at BSU and 110 points to top the 11-team field at the Park Rapids Legion Invitational.

East Grand Forks added two more titles by compiling 160 points at the 16-team Crookston Invitational and 458.50 points at the Section 8AA True Team meet. Park Rapids finished third at Crookston with 70 points and seventh out of nine teams at the True Team meet with 283.50 points.

The Panthers closed out the regular season by placing third at the Mid-State Conference meet with 92 points and claiming the title at the six-team Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational with 152 points. Staples-Motley won the conference title with 155.50 points.

After repeating a subsection champs with 179 points, the Panthers tallied 48 points to tie for fifth place at the section meet. East Grand Forks won the section title with 111 points. The Panthers, who finished 10th at last year's section meet with 33.50 points, ended up placing in nine events at the section meet.

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"We set our goals high this year and for the most part we achieved them," said Hill. "We won a lot of meets and contended for the top spot at the bigger meets. The program definitely took a step up to another level."

Leading the Panthers this season were the 19 athletes who qualified for the section meet: senior Laura Haugland; juniors Rachel Thelen and Alyssa Klingenberg; sophomores Heather Goodwater, Abby Hanson, Nikki Knott, Victoria Lutz, Kyja Penning, Shannon Taylor and Wolff; freshmen Tiffany Deitchler, Chelsea Johnson, Jerika Knott and Shogren; eighth graders Lydia Lutz, Shelby Pierce and Shannon Thielen; and seventh graders Grace Bateman and Morgan Olson.

Thelen shared the team's Most Valuable award after leading the Panthers in points with 253. Thelen competed in the pole vault, 100 dash, 4 x 100 relay and 4 x 200 relay, winning six titles in the pole vault, two titles in the 100, and one title in each of the relays. Thelen was the conference champion in the pole vault and runner-up in the 100. At the subsection meet, Thelen took first in both the 100 and pole vault, and ran on the runner-up 4 x 100 relay and third-place 4 x 200 relay teams. Thelen capped off the season by placing third in the pole vault, sixth in the 4 x 100 relay, seventh in the 4 x 200 relay and eighth in the 100 at the section meet.

Lydia Lutz was the other recipient of the team's Most Valuable award after finishing third in points with 239 and qualifying for state in two events. During the season, Lutz won seven titles in the 3,200, four titles in the 4 x 800 relay, and one title each in the 800 and 4 x 400 relay. Lutz was the runner-up in the 3,200 at the conference meet and took first in the 3,200 and 4 x 800 relay at the subsection meet. At the section meet, Lutz won the 3,200 and helped the Panthers set a school record with a winning time in the 4 x 800 relay. Lutz also qualified for state in the 3,200 as a seventh grader.

Victoria Lutz was second in points with 249 and was named the Panthers' Hardest Worker. Lutz ran in the 400 (winning one title), 800 (winning two titles), 1,600, 3,200 (winning one title), 4 x 400 relay and 4 x 800 relay (winning four titles). Lutz was the conference champion in the 800 and ran on the champion 4 x 800 relay team at the subsection meet. Lutz also took second in the 400 and third in the 3,200 at the subsection meet. At the section meet, Lutz finished 10th in the 3,200 and 13th in the 400 while running on the state-qualifying 4 x 800 relay team.

Wolff, who was fourth in points with 234, was another versatile athlete for the Panthers by competing in the 200, 400, 800, 4 x 200 relay, 4 x 400 relay, long jump and triple jump. Wolff won four titles in the triple jump and ran on one winning 4 x 200 relay team and one winning 4 x 400 relay team before running on the state-qualifying 4 x 800 relay unit. Wolff was the conference runner-up in the triple jump and placed in four events at the subsection meet, taking third in the triple jump, 4 x 200 relay and 4 x 400 relay and seventh in the 200. At the section meet, Wolff finished seventh in the triple jump and 4 x 200 relay. Wolff received a Coaches Award.

Penning also surpassed 200 points with 201 points and earned the Team Spirit award. Penning ran on three winning 4 x 800 relay teams during the season and one winning 4 x 400 relay unit while also placing in the pole vault. Penning helped the Panthers win the subsection title in the 4 x 800 relay while placing second in the pole vault and running on the third-place 4 x 400 relay team. Penning capped off the season by placing sixth in the pole vault at the section meet.

Shogren was named the Panthers' Rookie of the Year after finishing sixth in points with 169. In addition to running on the state-qualifying 4 x 800 relay team, Shogren competed in the 400, 1,600, 3,200 (winning one title) and 4 x 400 relay. At the subsection meet, Shogren took third in the 800 and 4 x 400 relay and ended up placing 11th in the 800 at the section meet.

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Haugland was seventh in points with 142 and received the team's Most Dedicated honor. Haugland was the Mid-State champion in the high jump and won five titles in that event during the season. Haugland capped off her senior season by placing third in the high jump at both the subsection and section meets.

Taylor and Alyssa Klingenberg provided depth in the sprints and relays and finished with 130 and 124 points, respectively. Those two sprinters helped the Panthers place second in the 4 x 100 and third in the 4 x 200 relays at the subsection meet and sixth in the 4 x 100 and seventh in the 4 x 200 relays at the section meet. Taylor also competed in the 100 and 200, placing eighth in the 200 at the subsection meet. Klingenberg also ran the 100, placing sixth at the subsection meet in that event. Both Taylor and Klingenberg received a Coaches Award.

Goodwater rounded out the Panthers' top-10 list in points with 105 and was named the team's Most Improved. Goodwater was the Panthers' top hurdler, winning the subsection title in the 100 hurdles and placing second in the 300 hurdles. At the section meet, Goodwater finished fourth in the 100 hurdles and 14th in the 300 hurdles. Goodwater also competed in the 4 x 100 relay during the season.

Deitchler compiled 51 points in the 1,600 and 3,200 races. Deitchler was the subsection runner-up in the 1,600 and finished 11th in that event at the section meet.

Pierce was named one of the Panthers' Newcomers of the Year after scoring 47 points this season. Pierce competed in the 400, 4 x 200 relay, 4 x 400 relay and high jump and qualified for the section meet by placing third in the 400 at the subsection meet. Pierce ended up placing 15th in the 400 at the section meet.

Nikki Knott was the Panthers' top thrower who scored 40 points this season. Knott placed in both the shot put and discus in five meets, capping the year by placing fourth in the shot put and sixth in the discus at the subsection meet. Knott finished 15th in the shot put at the section meet.

Bateman shared the Newcomer of the Year honor after scoring 35 points this season. Bateman competed in the hurdles and pole vault, placing third in the 300 hurdles, sixth in the 100 hurdles and seventh in the pole vault at the subsection meet. In her section debut, Bateman finished ninth in the 300 hurdles.

Jerika Knott finished the season with 29 points and qualified for the section meet as a member of the subsection runner-up 4 x 100 relay team. That relay team finished sixth at the section meet.

Johnson had 26 points in the middle distance events. Johnson ran in the 800, 1,600, 4 x 400 relay and 4 x 800 relay during the season and qualified for the section meet by placing fifth in the 800 at the subsection meet. Johnson placed 15th in that race at the section meet.

Olson scored 23 points in the distance races this season. Olson placed fourth in the 3,200 run at the subsection meet and finished 14th in that race at the section meet.

Thielen rounded out the Panthers' list of section qualifiers. Thielen placed fifth in the 100 hurdles at the subsection meet and finished 12th in that event at the section meet.

Also scoring points on the varsity this season were senior Kaitlyn Nelson (7 points in the sprints and shot put); junior Alexi Zunich-Andersen (9 points in the sprints and 300 hurdles); freshmen Katie McBurney (2 points) and Anna Pugh (2 points); eighth graders Hannah Fischer (4 points), Danielle Hill (3 points), Emily Klingenberg (3 points), Jenna Polley (2 points), Mandy Schirmers (19.50 points) and Taylor Yliniemi (3 points); and seventh graders Tori Lauderbaugh (6.50 points), Lydia Schaum (6 points) and Cassidy Haggard (3 points).

The Panthers will have to replace two key leaders in Haugland and Nelson. However, with a talented group of athletes returning, Hill is counting on the Panthers to take another step forward next spring.

"We continue to progress each year and we had a lot of great accomplishments this year," said Hill. "We're going to miss Laura and Kaitlyn, but we have a talented group returning and we're going to raise the bar higher. We have the potential in the next couple of years to accomplish more great things. We have some good competition around us, but with our talent and ability, I look for us to continue to climb up that ladder next season."

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