Despite graduating 11 seniors, head coach Andrew Lachowitzer’s expectations were “sky high” for the Park Rapids boys track and field team this season.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lachowitzer wasn’t able to see how much success his team would have had this spring.

A year ago, that senior group led the Panthers to runner-up finishes at the Mid-State Conference and Section 8A meets while repeating as the Subsection 8-29A champs. Park Rapids also qualified eight individuals for the state Class A meet.

Five of those seniors helped the Panthers advance to state in four events. Seth Breitweser placed 14th in the 800-meter run while Jerry Engst, Spencer Fritze, Zach Fritze and Chris Day placed 12th during preliminaries of the 4 x 100 relay. Spencer Fritze finished 20th in the pole vault. Breitweser also ran on the 4 x 800 relay team that placed 11th during preliminaries.

Even with graduation, the Panthers were counting on the return of 20 athletes who scored points last season. Heading that list were the other three state qualifiers: senior Kolby Brandt, junior Lane Monaghan and sophomore Kaleb Stearns. Those three rounded out the 4 x 800 relay unit. Brandt was also expected to compete in the 4 x 400 relay and 800, Monaghan was going to compete in the 4 x 400 and 1,600, and Stearns was scheduled to run in the 400 and 4 x 400 relay this spring.

In addition to that trio, seniors Marcus Benson (800), Hunter Brandt (4 x 200, 4 x 400, 400), Max Crist (4 x 100, 110 hurdles, 300 hurdles, high jump), Jeff Haas (110 hurdles, 300 hurdles, 4 x 200 relay), Brian Karkinen (400, 4 x 400, long jump, triple jump), Keegan Moses (1,600, 3,200) and Avery Wolff (high jump, long jump, triple jump); juniors Ronaldo Gomez (400, 800) and Skylar Hagen (4 x 800 relay, 1,600); sophomores Darryl Etter (1,600, 3,200), Parker Harmon (4 x 800 relay, 1,600), Tristan Hill (shot put, discus), Josiah May (100, 4 x 100 relay, 4 x 200 relay), Nick Michaelson (high jump, triple jump), Sam Reish (100, 4 x 100 relay, long jump, triple jump), Sam Warne (3,200, 4 x 800 relay) and Zach Van Batavia (1,600, pole vault); and freshmen Dawson Dahring (110 hurdles, 300 hurdles) and Gavin Fischer (4 x 100 relay, pole vault) were being counted on to make major contributions in making the Panthers a contender in the conference and section again this spring.

After placing fourth at the Section 8AA True Team meet, the Panthers used a winning time by the 4 x 800 relay team to finish second behind Detroit Lakes at the Mid-State Conference meet. Breitweser (who also won the 800), Kolby Brandt, Monaghan and Stearns received all-conference honors with that finish. Among those placing second to earn all-conference honorable mention honors were Monaghan (1,600), Crist (110 hurdles and 300 hurdles), Wolff (high jump), and Kolby Brandt and Karkinen (4 x 400 relay).

The Panthers dominated the other nine teams at the subsection meet, compiling 197 points to capture the title for the eighth time in the last nine years. The 4 x 800 relay team posted the only winning effort, but 10 runner-up finishes and six third-place efforts helped Park Rapids coast to the title.

Among those posting runner-up finishes were Crist in the 110 hurdles, Warne in the 3,200 run and Wolff in the high jump. May ran on the runner-up 4 x 200 relay team while Kolby Brandt and Stearns ran on the runner-up 4 x 400 relay unit. Also returning after scoring points at the subsection meet were Monaghan (third in the 1,600), Crist (third in the 300 hurdles), Etter (third in the 3,200), Haas (third in the 110 hurdles and fourth in the 300 hurdles), Stearns (fourth in the 800), Hagen (fourth in the 1,600 and seventh in the 800), Moses (fourth in the 3,200), Kolby Brandt (fifth in the 400), Wolff (fifth in the long jump), May (fifth in the 200 and seventh in the 100), Harmon (fifth in the 1,600), Hill (fifth in the shot put) and Fischer (sixth in the pole vault). The other subsection competitors back were Reish (ninth in the triple jump), Hill (11th in the discus) and Hunter Brandt (12th in the 200).

At last year’s Section 8A meet, Kolby Brandt, Stearns, Monaghan and Breitweser began the running events by taking second in the 4 x 800 relay in 8:19.81 to qualify for state and break the school record of 8:21.3 set by Bill Simpson, Wes Dwight, Mark Lingle and Jeff Packer in 1982. Also taking second to advance to state were the 4 x 100 relay team, Breitweser in the 800 and Spencer Fritze in the pole vault.

Wolff just missed advancing to state by placing third in the high jump while Karkinen ran on the 4 x 400 relay that finished fifth. Crist placed sixth in the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles while May ran on the 4 x 200 relay team that also finished sixth. Also returning after scoring points were Monaghan (seventh in the 1,600), Hagen (eighth in the 1,600) and Etter (eighth in the 3,200). Those athletes helped the Panthers compile 60.50 points to trail only Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton’s 114 points in the section team standings.

The other section competitors back for the Panthers were Haas (11th in the 110 hurdles and 15th in the 300 hurdles), Moses (12th in the 3,200), Kolby Brandt (12th in the 400), Warne (14th in the 3,200), Stearns (16th in the 800), Fischer (16th in the pole vault) and Wolff (16th in the long jump).

Not being able to compete this spring was a major disappointment for the seniors.

“I knew the team and myself had big aspirations to go and compete at our level,” said Benson. “I know it’s not just myself that is getting impacted from this, but all the runners all the way down to the seventh graders.”

“My expectations this year were for the team and me to be the best we can be,” said Hunter Brandt. “One of my big goals for the team was to hopefully win the section meet and pursue a state appearance and place in the top 10 or better and have fun when we complete our goals.”

“The expectations I had for this track season were that I was planning on participating in the state meet again like last year and placing this time. Also, since the team was being moved back down to single A True Team, we were planning on participating in True Team State and placing,” said Kolby Brandt. “I was also looking forward to what the newcomers to the team would bring to the table and to see the team having fun and being successful.”

“This year for track we had very high expectations,” said Haas. “We moved down a class for True Team and we had a very good chance at making it to state. I personally set my goals to place well in sections in the 110-meter hurdles and the 300-meter hurdles to have a chance at going to state.”

“I was really looking forward to high jumping this spring. My goal was to go to state this year and I know the rest of the track team was ready for a successful season,” said Wolff. “This year, our team really had the chance to be fantastic and now the team has to wait another year. Although as a senior I'm bummed I'll be missing out, I'm excited to hear how the team is doing next year.”

Lachowitzer also had high expectations for his seniors and the entire team.

“A lot of kids put in tons of work over the offseason and in the short time we had with them for practice. I was really excited to see where they were at. This was also the biggest team I've had since I started coaching and that was exciting to see the program continuing to grow,” said Lachowitzer, who was going to be assisted by Chad Harshman, Mike Hartung, Kent Fritze, Jake DeBlieck and Joe Morgan. “Our expectations for the team were sky high this season. We felt that we could win our True Team section and place high in state this season. In individuals, we had the expectation we could win our subsection. In sections, we believed we could send a lot of kids to state.”

With the season canceled, Lachowitzer will have to wait until next spring to see what the returning athletes can produce on the track and in the field events.

“We really have a special group of boys and I wish they got the chance to showcase what they are capable of this season,” said Lachowitzer. “However, I know they will come back even stronger from this unprecedented time.”