Panthers run to successful seasons

When Kerry Johnson took over as head coach of the Park Rapids girls cross-country team, she knew the Panthers had the talent to contend for a spot in the state Class A meet.

Lydia Lutz
Lydia Lutz (left) sprinted to the finish line at this year's state Class A girls cross-country meet. Lutz, who was making her second appearance at the state meet, finished 34th overall. (John George / Perham Enterprise)

When Kerry Johnson took over as head coach of the Park Rapids girls cross-country team, she knew the Panthers had the talent to contend for a spot in the state Class A meet.

The Panthers lived up to that hype by finishing no lower than fifth at every invitational meet this season. Park Rapids won two titles and finished second twice in seven regular-season meets and was ranked as high as No. 10 in the state Class A poll.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, Section 8A boasted three of the top-10 ranked teams in the state. Staples-Motley entered the section meet rated No. 2 in the state while Perham was rated No. 4.

Those rankings held as Staples-Motley won the section title with 51 points while Perham was second with 58 points to claim the two state berths. Park Rapids finished a solid third with 89 points to miss out on a state trip.

The two Section 8A representatives also excelled at the state meet as Perham finished second and Staples-Motley placed fourth.


Even though the Panthers didn't get the team through to state, they did send a runner to state for the third year in a row when freshman Lydia Lutz qualified as the section runner-up. Lutz ended up placing 34th overall in her second state trip after placing 30th last season.

In addition to having a successful season running, the Panthers also excelled in the classroom by earning a silver level academic award for having a team GPA of 3.74.

All things considered, it was another successful season for the Panthers.

"Whenever a team is ranked, it's a good year," said Johnson. "As a team and coach, we were disappointed that more girls didn't advance to state or that the whole team didn't advance. Our section is just so tough. To end the season ranked 13th was a great accomplishment."

The Panthers opened the season by finishing fifth at the 10-team Moorhead Invitational with 109 points. Moorhead won that meet with 43 points.

After finishing third at the 11-team Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational with 67 points (Perham took first with 48 point), the Panthers won back-to-back titles with 32 points at the eight-team Pelican Rapids Invitational and 28 points at the 14-team Bagley/Fosston Invitational.

Park Rapids then placed fourth at the 16-team Fergus Falls Invitational with 93 points. West Fargo led the field with 56 points. The Panthers were rated No. 11 in the state poll after that meet.

An impressive runner-up showing against Class A teams at the 41-team Swain Invitational at Duluth followed as the Panthers tallied 147 points to trail only No. 3-rated Holy Family's 49 points in the team standings. Park Rapids remained in the No. 11 spot in the state poll following that meet.


The Panthers then challenged Staples-Motley for the team title at the Mid-State Conference meet. Staples-Motley defended its title with 33 points while the Panthers finished second with 45 points. Park Rapids moved up to the No. 10 spot in the state poll after that showing.

Despite missing out on a state trip, the Panthers' third-place finish at the 15-team Section 8A meet was their best showing at the section meet since taking second in 1998. Sending Lutz to state for the second year in a row capped off the season.

Leading the Panthers to another successful season were Lutz and the other seven varsity runners: senior Kayla Stursa; junior Victoria Lutz; sophomores Tiffany Deitchler, Sophie Shogren and Chelsea Johnson; freshman Allie Bade; and eighth-grader Morgan Olson.

Lydia Lutz was the Panthers' No. 1 runner all season, placing in the top 10 in every meet. Lutz finished seventh at Moorhead and fourth at Wadena before leading the field at Pelican Rapids and Bagley. Lutz then finished third at Fergus Falls and fifth at Duluth before repeating as an all-conference runner by finishing second at the Mid-State meet. The team's Most Valuable Runner then finished second at the section meet before capping the year by placing 34th at the state meet.

Deitchler was the team's No. 2 runner late in the season, finishing 19th at Fergus Falls, ninth at the conference meet to repeat as an all-conference runner and 13th at the section meet. Deitchler, who qualified for state last year, also finished as the team's No. 3 runner at Duluth by placing 19th and as the No. 4 runner by placing 28th at Moorhead, 21st at Wadena, eighth at Pelican Rapids and eighth at Bagley.

Victoria Lutz was the Panthers' No. 2 runner early in the season by placing 20th at Moorhead, 12th at Wadena, third at Pelican Rapids, sixth at Bagley and 17th at Duluth. Lutz, who was a state qualifier in 2006, was the No. 3 runner at Fergus Falls by placing 20th and at the Mid-State meet by placing 10th to repeat as an all-conference runner before being the No. 4 runner at the section meet by finishing 20th overall.

Shogren began the season as the Panthers' No. 3 runner, placing 23rd at Moorhead, 14th at Wadena, sixth at Pelican Rapids and seventh at Bagley. Shogren was the No. 4 runner by placing 25th at Fergus Falls and Duluth before finishing 13th at the Mid-State Conference meet and 39th at the section meet in the No. 5 spot.

Olson peaked at the end of the season by placing 15th in her debut at the section meet for the No. 2 spot on the team. Olson moved up spots on the team all season, finishing 46th at Moorhead in the No. 7 spot and 28th at Wadena in the No. 6 spot before rounding out the Panthers' team score in the No. 5 spot by finishing 15th at Pelican Rapids, 10th at Bagley, 26th at Fergus Falls and 77th at Duluth. At the conference meet, Olson finished 11th in the No. 4 spot. Olson was named the Panthers' Most Improved runner.


Stursa opened the season as the Panthers' No. 5 runner by placing 31st at Moorhead and 22nd at Wadena before ending the season as the No. 6 runner by placing 18th at Pelican Rapids, 14th at Bagley, 40th at Fergus Falls, 22nd at the conference meet and 40th at the section meet. Stursa received the team's Hardest Worker award

Johnson rounded out the varsity team in the No. 7 spot in six meets, finishing 43rd at Moorhead, 35th at Wadena, 21st at Pelican Rapids, 25th at Bagley, 52nd at Fergus Falls and 66th at the section meet.

Bade ran varsity in two meets in her cross-country debut, placing 95th at Duluth and 23rd at the conference meet. Bade was named the team's Most Spirited.

"I thought the season went well," said Johnson. "The girls worked hard and kept improving. They just never complained or took a day off; they really worked hard all season and I really respect that. The girls had a good section meet with some season-best times, so we really can't ask for more than that."

Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers should have another good shot at qualifying for state with seven of the eight varsity girls returning. However, the section is going to be loaded again with Perham graduating only one runner and Staples-Motley graduating only two runners.

"Kayla has been a great leader for so long. She truly leads by example and continues to push herself. She will be hard to replace," said Johnson. "I hope the girls continue to work hard and improve. It would be great to see more girls advance to state. Being at state with Lydia was exciting, but I don't think any of us will be content until the whole team earns the right to compete."

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