Swimmers surpass expectations
Todd Fritze has had several successful seasons during his 14 years as head coach of the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team. In many ways, this season ranks up there as one of the most successful. Despite having only 16 swimmers and divers,...
Todd Fritze has had several successful seasons during his 14 years as head coach of the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team.
In many ways, this season ranks up there as one of the most successful.
Despite having only 16 swimmers and divers, the Panthers went 4-2 in dual meets, qualified for the state Class A True Team meet, won the Park Rapids Invitational for the second year in a row and third time overall, re-peated as Mid-State Conference champs and placed third at the Section 4A meet while winning the Section 4A academic champion-ship for the third straight year.
"This group was kind of an overachieving bunch," said Fritze. "This group was so coachable. I can't find a bad thing to say about the season. In terms of coachability, other teams will be judged by this group. This group of kids was focused all year. By far, this was one of the best seasons we've had in terms of what we achieved with the people we had."
Even though they were outnumbered all season, the Panthers competed well all season. Park Rapids opened the season with losses to Sauk Centre/Melrose (96-90) and Bemidji (96-83) before ending the season with four straight dual wins against Perham (103-78), Detroit Lakes (101-79), Thief River Falls (96-72) and Sauk Centre/Mel-rose (97-89).
In addition, the Panthers placed third out of seven teams at the Fergus Falls Invitational with 254 points (Fergus Falls took first with 529 points), claimed runner-up honors at the Detroit Lakes Invita-tional with 307 points (Bemidji took first in this six-team meet with 447 points), finished behind Hibbing's 522 points at the Section 4A True Team meet with 334 points to qualify for the state meet, scored 640 points to place 10th at the state True Team meet (St. Thomas Academy led the field with 1,722.50 points) and repeated as champs at the Park Rapids Invitational with 527 points.
The Panthers ended the season on a strong note by tallying 131 points to defeat Detroit Lakes' 108 total to win the Mid-State Confer-ence title and by compiling 228 points to place third out of 11 teams at the Section 4A meet. Grand Rapids won the section title with 404 points. Last year, the Panthers finished seventh at the section meet with 144 points.
At the section meet, the Pan-thers qualified four individuals in five events for the state Class A meet. Juniors Elliot Lawrence, Colton Storseth and Jake Sheeran and sophomore Bryce Klasen scored 11 points at the state meet to place 30th as a team. Last year, only Storseth qualified for state.
A blizzard the first day of the state meet canceled all the preliminaries and turned every event into a one-day final. Lawrence placed 13th in the 200 individual medley, Storseth placed 14th in the 100 butterfly, and Storseth (14th) and Klasen (16th) placed in the 100 breaststroke. Those four placed 18th in the 200 medley relay and Storseth placed 20th in the 100 backstroke. Section 4A had a strong state meet as Hibbing (third), Eveleth-Gilbert (sixth) and Grand Rapids (ninth) placed in the top 10.
"Our goal going into the section meet was to finish in the top three. Last year our goal was to finish in the top five and we finished seventh. We wanted to make sure that wouldn't happen this year," said Fritze. "We knew it would be tough with five teams jockeying for the top three spots. The section times were fast and for us to move up from seventh to third was a great accomplishment. We had some good teams in the section and three of those teams placed in the top 10 at state. We had all four kids score in at least one event at state and we went from 0 points last year to 11 points this year. I was extremely pleased with our performances at the section meet and the state meet."
In addition to the four state qualifiers, Fritze received solid efforts all season from the other 12 swimmers and divers. Rounding out the Panthers' varsity roster were seniors Ben Brandon and Ben Sperle; junior Matt Lalli; sophomores Kyle McBrady and Devon Ondracek; freshman Jared Storseth; eighth graders Nick Belfiori, Jon Koch, Zach Lohmeier and Kevin Merfeld; and seventh graders Brock Fritze and Sam Goebel.
At the conference meet, Lawrence, Klasen, Colton Storseth and Sheeran won the 200 medley relay while Brandon, Colton Storseth, Klasen and Lawrence won the 400 freestyle relay to earn all-conference honors. Brandon was also the conference champion in the 200 freestyle and 100 freestyle while Lalli took first in diving. Colton Storseth won the 100 backstroke, and Sheeran won the 100 breaststroke to receive all-conference honors. Earning all-conference honorable mention honors with runner-up finishes were Lawrence in the 200 medley relay, Sheeran in the 50 freestyle, Colton Storseth in the 100 butterfly and Klasen in the 100 breaststroke.
At the section meet, Lawrence won the 200 individual medley, Colton Storseth was fourth in the 100 butterfly and fifth in the 100 backstroke, Sheeran and Klasen went 2-4 in the 100 breaststroke, and the 200 medley relay finished fourth to qualify for state.
The 400 freestyle relay team of Lawrence, Colton Storseth, Brandon and Klasen finished sixth at the section meet while the 200 freestyle relay team of Brandon, Sheeran, Jared Storseth and Ondracek placed ninth.
Lawrence led the team with 409.50 points and moved into the No. 2 spot in school history in the 200 individual medley with a 2:09.19 and into the No. 3 spot in the 500 freestyle with a 5:17.00. Lawrence also challenged for a state berth in the 500 freestyle by placing fifth at the section meet.
Colton Storseth was second on the team in points with 402 and he moved up on the school's all-time charts in the 100 backstroke (second with a 59.57) and 100 butterfly (fourth with a 57.35).
Brandon capped off his senior season by compiling 361.50 points, including a seventh-place finish in the 100 freestyle and a 10th-place effort in the 200 freestyle at the section meet. Brandon moved up to the No. 9 spot in school history in the 100 freestyle with a 52.78 and to the No. 10 spot in the 200 individual medley with a 2:18.86. Brandon also ranks No. 3 in the 200 freestyle (1:56.34) and No. 4 in the 500 freestyle (5:19.79).
Klasen was fourth on the team in scoring with 341.50 points, including a seventh-place finish in the 200 individual medley at the section meet. Klasen moved up to the No. 5 spot all-time in the 100 breaststroke (1:04.78) and to the No. 6 spot in the 200 individual medley (2:15.56).
Sheeran broke Jason Malm's 1992 school record of 1:04.23 in the 100 breaststroke with a 1:04.21 and ended the season with 339 points. Sheeran also placed 11th in the 50 freestyle at the section meet.
Lalli contended for a state berth in diving before settling for eighth place. Lalli, who sits at the No. 4 spot in school history with 204.20 points in six dives, moved into the No. 2 spot with 323.00 points in 11 dives.
Sperle capped off his senior season by placing eighth in the 100 butterfly and 18th in the 200 individual medley at the section meet. Sperle is ranked No. 8 in school history in the 100 butterfly with a 1:00.37.
Jared Storseth compiled 153.50 points this season and competed at the section meet in the 100 freestyle and 200 freestyle.
McBrady scored 111.50 points this season and competed at the section meet in the 100 breaststroke and 50 freestyle.
Fritze scored 86.50 points and was a section swimmer in the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly.
Lohmeier competed at the section meet in diving and scored 85 points this season. Lohmeier moved up to the No. 9 spot in diving with 192.90 points in 11 dives.
Goebel compiled 79.50 points this season and was a section swimmer in the 500 freestyle and 200 freestyle.
Ondracek scored 79 points this season and competed at the section meet in the 100 freestyle and 50 freestyle.
Merfeld swam the 500 freestyle at the section meet and scored 69 points this season.
Belfiori (40 points) and Koch (10.50 points) rounded out this year's varsity squad.
"It's getting tougher to crack our top 10 and we had 12 top 10 performances this year, which is spectacular," said Fritze. "We knew we'd have a solid team this year. The one thing that hurt us was we didn't have much depth. But we accomplished a lot this year because we worked as a team."
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers have to replace the leadership of Brandon and Sperle, but should once again be competitive with the return of 14 swimmers and divers.
"We have two tough guys to replace, but things look pretty good with the guys we have returning," said Fritze. "We have all our state guys back and our younger guys really buckled down and had a good year for us. I was happy with how we did, but there is always room for improvement. The future looks bright."