State trips provided highlights for 2007

The past 12 months provided several more historic achievements from area athletes. Park Rapids' Tyler Safratowich helped the University of Minnesota wrestling team win the NCAA Division I title and Park Rapids' Tyler Lehrke (Bemidji State Univers...

The past 12 months provided several more historic achievements from area athletes.

Park Rapids' Tyler Safratowich helped the University of Minnesota wrestling team win the NCAA Division I title and Park Rapids' Tyler Lehrke (Bemidji State University men's hockey) and Janessa Wolff (Penn State University women's basketball) made their debuts at the Division I collegiate level.

Menahga's Charlie Hrdlicka won a pair of medals at the state Class A track and field meet, including a runner-up effort in the 100-meter dash. The Pine Point women's softball team won the state Class EE title, Nevis' Jill Wizik helped Central Lakes College win the NJCAA Division III national volleyball title, and Park Rapids' Kristen Harsha and Jackie Cumber helped the Rainy River Community College women's hockey team place fourth at the ACHA Division II national tournament.

While those events provided the main highlights for 2007, there were several other noteworthy accomplishments from area athletes. Following is a look at the best of the rest from 2007.

Winter swims in NCAA meet


Park Rapids' Jonah Winter helped Gustavus Adolphus' 200-yard freestyle relay team qualify for the NCAA Division III meet at Houston in March.

Winter swam on the Gusties' relay team that entered as the No. 2 seed with a time of 1:22.34. Gustavus placed sixth during preliminaries with a time of 1:23.05 and finished sixth in the finals with a time of 1:22.68.

Gustavus placed fifth as a team.

Winter also placed in four events at the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference meet in February at the University of Minnesota as Gustavus finished second with 838.50 points. St. Olaf ended Gustavus' five-year run as conference champs by compiling 843.50 points.

At the conference meet, Winter clocked a 21.12 split as Gustavus won the 200 freestyle relay in 1:24.12. Winter also placed seventh in the 100 butterfly with a time of 52.82, ninth in the 100 freestyle with a time of 47.81 and 10th in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:01.42. During preliminaries, Winter went 52.57 in the 100 butterfly, 48.35 in the 100 freestyle and 1:02.69 in the 100 breaststroke.

Panthers place fifth at state

The first inning of the first two games of the state Class AA baseball tournament at Dick Putz Field and Joe Faber Field in St. Cloud in June set the tone for the Park Rapids baseball team to win the consolation trophy.

In the quarterfinal game at Dick Putz Field, a lead-off single by Cody Hallahan and Hunter Dunbar's home run gave Glencoe-Silver Lake a 2-0 lead.


In the bottom of the first inning, Park Rapids' Curtis Tolle led off with a double to right field and Tom Juberian was hit by a pitch. After a passed ball moved up the runners, Tolle was thrown out at the plate on a grounder to short by Zach Lehrke as the Panthers failed to score.

That first inning proved to be an omen of things to come as Glencoe advanced to the semifinals with a 7-1 victory.

In Park Rapids' second game at Joe Faber Field, an RBI double by Lehrke, a two-run single by Chris Bruhn and an RBI single by Kyle Blanchard gave the Panthers a quick 4-0 lead in the first inning. Eli Donatelle took care of the rest by throwing a one-hitter to spark the Panthers to an 11-0 five-inning victory over Kenyon-Wanamingo.

A five-run fourth inning helped end the game early via the 10-run rule. Juberian and Dierkhising led off with singles and moved up on a wild pitch. A balk scored Juberian and Lehrke followed with an RBI single to right. Kevin Vaadeland, who pinch-ran for Lehrke, and Bruhn, who singled, scored on Blanchard's two-run double to right. Justin Peterson's RBI single scored Blanchard as the Panthers held a 10-0 lead in advancing to the consolation title game.

In the fifth-place game at Dick Putz Field, the Panthers used Grant Dierkhising's solo home run in the third inning and two Triton errors in the sixth to spark a 5-4 win to cap off a 22-5 season. A nine-hit attack enabled the Panthers to bring home their second trophy in their second appearance at the state tournament. Park Rapids was the state Class A runner-up in 1986.

Bruhn (who went 6 for 8 with four RBI, three runs scored and a home run) was named to the state Class AA all-tournament team.

"I was proud of the way we fought back to win our last two games," said Park Rapids head coach Mark Juberian. "Only three teams in the state win their last game and given the fact that we lost our first game, finishing fifth was as good as we could do. The kids played well. We proved that we could play baseball with anybody in the state. We had a great year and we should be in good shape to make it back next year."

Menahga qualifies for state


The third time wasn't the charm for the Menahga fastpitch softball team.

The Braves were attempting to experience their first victory at the state Class A tournament in their third appearance at Mankato's Caswell Park in June. Instead, Menahga fell to 0-6 in state tournament play with a 12-0 loss to New Ulm Cathedral and a 5-1 loss to Sleepy Eye St. Mary's.

Menahga managed only seven hits in the two games to end the season with a 15-12 record.

New Ulm Cathedral, the No. 1-ranked team in the state, advanced to the semifinals with a combination of 13 hits and a three-hitter by Katie Christian and Kate Bock. A grand-slam home run by Katie Larson also aided the win.

Menahga's bats were silenced again in the consolation bracket as Sleepy Eye St. Mary's advanced to the fifth-place game.

The Braves avoided being shut out again when Hannah Dissmore reached on an error and scored on Kati Neisess' double in the seventh.

Filipi bowls another 300 game

Ben Filipi of Park Rapids became the first bowler to roll three 300 games during league play at Lori Lea Lanes.


In January, Filipi bowled a perfect 300 game to cap off a 714 series. Filipi also holds the record at Lori Lea Lanes with an 815 series.

Lehrke surpasses 100 points

Pete Stahnke expected Zach Lehrke to make an immediate impact as a member of the Park Rapids-Menahga boys hockey team.

"I knew Zach would have an impact right away," said Stahnke, the Panthers' head coach. "He could have been a dominant player as a freshman, but playing with his teammates (on the Bantams) was more important to him. He's more concerned with winning games than with individual goals. Zach has performed over my expectations. He's a great hockey player."

Lehrke scored a goal in his first varsity game as a sophomore. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound forward hasn't stopped putting the puck in the net.

Lehrke finished his first varsity season with 25 goals and 30 assists for 55 points. Those numbers rank among the best scoring seasons in school history. The 25 goals tied for fifth place, the 30 assists were the third most and the 55 points tied for third place on the school's all-time single-season list.

An assist in the second period of the Panthers' 7-1 win over Red Lake Falls in February made Lehrke only the seventh player in school history to score at least 100 points.

Tyler Lehrke (192 points), Darin Hafner (134 points), Levi Goeden (122 points), Pat Albee (122 points), Chris Knapp (104 points) and Eric Grewe (102 points) are the only other Park Rapids players to reach that milestone.


"We look for Zach to control the game and make things happen. We look for him to score points, either with assists or goals," said Stahnke. "Zach is a very coachable player. He's one of the more enjoyable kids I have ever coached. His acceleration is better than anyone I've ever seen and his hockey savvy is unbelievable. His biggest assets are his skating ability, his speed and his strength. He works hard in the weight room and on getting better."

"I guess my role on the team is to be a goal scorer and get the guys going," said Lehrke. "I set my goals high. I'd like to go on to the next level and play Juniors and then Division I hockey."

While helping the team win is Lehrke's main goal, Stahnke sees a promising future for his junior star once his high school playing days are over. The Park Rapids head coach predicts Lehrke will follow in his older brother's footsteps. Tyler Lehrke played two years of Junior hockey at Green Bay before moving on to play for Bemidji State University at the Division I level this season.

"Right now he's a great high school hockey player. Now he has to work on things that will prepare him to play at the Division I level," said Stahnke. "He's definitely a Division I prospect."

Uscola, Branstrom reach 100 wins

Colter Uscola and Lee Branstrom made history by joining an elite group of Park Rapids wrestlers in 2007.

Uscola was looking forward to a double celebration during the Section 8AA wrestling tournament at Cass Lake in February.

Uscola was hoping to celebrate his 100th career win along with a return trip to the state Class AA tournament.


The Park Rapids junior became only the 10th wrestling in school history to reach 100 wins by going 3-1 during the section meet. However, a loss in the semifinals led to a third-place finish at 135 pounds as Uscola was denied a trip to state.

"I really wanted to go to state this year. I didn't make it, but I did get my 100th win," said Uscola, who was the Section 8AA runner-up at 119 pounds as a sophomore and went 2-2 in his state debut. "It felt really great (to reach 100 wins). That was my goal for this season and to get it at sections was nice."

Uscola, who finished this season with a 28-5 record, now has 101 career wins to put him 10th on the school's all-time list. Tyler Safratowich tops the list with 146 wins, followed by Mike Jacobson (137), Joey Meinert (136), Eric Niemi (133), Nate Clark (119), J.T. Clark (116), Steve Offerdahl (105), Brandon Gruchow (105) and Mark Costello (104).

Uscola is looking to move up on that list and qualify for state to cap off his senior season.

"I'd like to be up there with Tyler and Joey," said Uscola. "I'd like to break 140 for wins and make it down to state and place next year."

Branstrom placed some high expectations on himself entering his junior year as a member of the Park Rapids wrestling team.

After what he achieved as a junior, Branstrom placed his expectations even higher entering his senior season.

Branstrom ended his junior season with a 34-5 record and 28 pins. Branstrom qualified for his first state Class AA wrestling tournament after winning the Section 8AA title at 189 pounds. In his state debut, Branstrom ended up placing sixth.

In the first week of his senior season, Branstrom reached a pair of impressive milestones. In the season opener in December, a forfeit win and a pin over United North Central's Zach Nevala gave Branstrom win No. 100. That made Branstrom the 11th wrestler in Park Rapids history to reach 100 career wins.

Branstrom then broke the school record for career pins in the Panthers' home debut. Branstrom pinned Neal Baumgartner of Deer River to tie Nate Clark's school record for pins at 70 and broke the record by pinning Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale's Trent Peterson to help the Panthers rally for a 36-36 tie and finish third at their invitational tournament.

"Any time a wrestler can get 100 wins, it is impressive. To have more than 70 pins is crazy," said Matt Clark. "No one in Park Rapids history has done that and he has the rest of the season to add to those totals."

"I wanted to shatter it (the school record for pins) this year," said Branstrom, who is currently ranked No. 3 at 189 pounds in the state Class AA poll. "My next goal is to get 100 pins. That would be nice."

With those milestones achieved, Branstrom is setting his sights on joining another exclusive group of Park Rapids wrestlers.

"Hopefully I'll be a state champion. That's my main goal," said Branstrom, who is seeking to join Costello, Jason Deitchler and Safratowich as state champions for Park Rapids. "After finishing sixth last year, I set a goal of getting first this year."

Hjelseth reaches 1,000 points

Gary Wolff had a tough time finding a weakness for Gretta Hjelseth on the basketball floor.

"There are so many things she does well," said Wolff, the head coach of the Nevis girls basketball team. "Sometimes she's a little too unselfish and I have to tell her to shoot the ball more. She's such a great athlete. There's not much she needs to improve."

Hjelseth set a school record by scoring 41 points against Menahga and broke that record with a 47-point performance against Cass Lake in January.

Hjelseth reached another milestone against Walker-Hackensack-Akeley in January by surpassing 1,000 career points. Her 3-pointer in the second overtime sparked Nevis to a 66-64 victory as Hjelseth joined Beth Branham and Ali Hesse as the only members in the history of the Nevis girls basketball program to reach 1,000 points.

"Watching her last year, I knew she would have a great year," said Wolff. "Gretta is a very diligent and dedicated athlete. She spends a lot of time working on her game and improving her game. I really don't have to tell her what to do. She knows when she has to step it up. She's just an all-around great ball player and a great person. I'm lucky to be coaching her."

Hjelseth ended her junior season with 1,408 career points to become Nevis' all-time leading scorer. Hjelseth started her senior season by breaking her single-game scoring record with 48 points in a win over Blackduck in December.

First Hall of Fame class inducted

Mark Costello, Tammy McGrane and Amber Bohman combined to win 11 state titles while athletes at Park Rapids Area High School. Darril Larison was the head coach of two Park Rapids teams that qualified for state, including a state runner-up.

Those accomplishments made Mark Costello, Tammy (McGrane) Fox, Amber (Bohman) Olson and the late Darril Larison worthy choices to be the initial inductees into the Panther Athletic Hall of Fame.

Costello won state titles in wrestling in 1971 and 1972, finished third at the state tournament in 1970 and fifth at the state tournament in 1969, and helped the Panthers to a runner-up finish at the state tournament in 1970.

McGrane won three state titles in track and field. McGrane was the state champion in the 180-yard hurdles in 1976 and won state titles in the 880 run in 1977 and 1978. McGrane was also the state runner-up in cross country in 1977.

Bohman was a two-time state champion in the 100-meter dash in 1992 and 1993, a two-time state champion in the 200-meter dash in 1992 and 1993, a two-time state champion as a member of the Panthers' 4 x 200 relay team in 1994 and 1995, and a state runner-up in the 400-meter dash in 1992 and 1993. With her performances in 1992 and 1993, the Panthers placed third at the state track meet. Park Rapids also placed fifth as a team in 1994 and 12th as a team in 1995.

Larison served as a head coach at Park Rapids for 22 years. Larison led the Park Rapids wrestling team to two Section 8 titles in 1965 and 1970 and to a runner-up finish at the state tournament in 1970. Larison had a 69-34-1 record as head coach from 1963-71 and 1984-86. Larison also coached the Park Rapids girls golf team to the Section 8A title in 1988 and a fifth-place showing at the state Class A tournament. Larison also led the Panthers to nine Subsection 8-29A titles from 1984-1995.

Inducting those four into Hall of Fame highlighted the 30th annual All Sports Banquet in May.

Dierkhising reaches 1,000 points

Grant Dierkhising celebrated the holiday season by becoming the fifth player in the history of the Park Rapids boys basketball program to score 1,000 career points.

Dierkhising, who entered the season with 899 points, surpassed the 1,000-point milestone in the Panthers' 71-43 loss to East Grand Forks in the championship game of the Park Rapids Holiday Tournament at the end of December.

Dierkhising joins John Dailey, Jay Schmidt, Brady Zubke and Zachary Wolff on the list of Park Rapids boys basketball players to score 1,000 points.

Athletes compete at state

Several other area athletes competed at state in 2007.

Last winter, Bryce Klasen, Elliot Lawrence, Jake Sheeran and Colton Storseth qualified for the state Class A boys swimming meet. That group scored points in three of their five events and compiled 11 points to place 30th in the state Class A field.

Lawrence finished 13th in the 200-yard individual medley with a 2:09.43 for 4 points. Storseth placed 14th in the 100 butterfly with a 57.35 for 3 points. Sheeran (14th in 1:05.33) and Klasen (16th in 1:05.92) combined to score 4 points in the 100 breaststroke.

Park Rapids' Joey Meinert qualified for his third consecutive state Class AA wrestling tournament. Meinert went 1-2 in his final state meet to end the season with a 31-7 record and 138-85 career record.

In the spring, Park Rapids' Lydia Lutz and Nevis' Jessica Schunk and Bryon Schuldt qualified for the state Class A track and field meet..

Lutz finished 14th out of 16 runners during the finals of the 3,200 run with a time of 12:25.96. The Park Rapids seventh grader qualified for state with an 11:56.71 for second place at the section meet.

Schunk failed to advance to the finals in the 100 dash by clocking a 13.01 for 14th place out of 16 state qualifiers during the preliminaries. That time broke her school record of 13.22. The Nevis freshman advanced to state with a runner-up 13.28 at the section meet.

Schuldt, who made history by becoming the first seventh grade boy to qualify for the state meet in the 3,200 run, finished 18th out of 18 runners with a time of 10:34.30 in the finals. Schuldt qualified for state with a runner-up time of 10:18.49 at the section meet.

Nevis' Taylor Schroeder and Park Rapids' Lexi Aho qualified for the state Class A golf tournament.

Schroeder was in position to fulfill his goal of finishing in the top 10 spots in his second trip to the state meet, but dropped from sixth place after the first 18 holes to 49th place. Schroeder carded rounds of 78 and 93 for a 171.

Aho fulfilled her goal of improving on a 97 during the first round on The Sanctuary course at Izatys Resort by carding a 90 on the final day on the par-72 course to finish 39th overall out of 87 golfers with a 187.

During the summer, Park Rapids' Zach Lehrke and Kevin McMorrow were selected to play in the USA Hockey National Select Festival. Lehrke made the Minnesota Select 17-year-old team as a forward while McMorrow was chosen as a defenseman for the Minnesota Select 15-year-old team.

The fall season was capped off by Park Rapids' Lydia Lutz and Tiffany Deitchler qualifying for the state Class A cross country meet and Park Rapids' Kyja Penning qualifying for the state Class A diving meet.

The two Park Rapids runners turned in solid showings on the 4,000-meter course at St. Olaf College in Northfield in November. Lutz, an eighth grader, finished 30th overall with a time of 15 minutes, 47 seconds while Deitchler, a freshman, finished 69th overall with a time of 16:22. A total of 161 runners competed in the state meet.

Penning fulfilled her goal in her first appearance at the state diving meet as the Park Rapids sophomore diver advanced to the finals at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center in November. Penning, who advanced to state as the Section 8A runner-up with a career-high 317.45 points, achieved that goal by placing 16th overall with 242.30 points.

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