Last season, the Park Rapids girls track and field team capped off another successful season by just missing winning the Section 8A title, sending nine athletes to the state Class A meet and placing at state in two events.

Only two seniors (Julia Johnson and Whitney Steffel) who competed at last year’s section meet graduated. With a talented group returning, head coach Corey Hill was expecting even more success from the Panthers this spring.

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the Panthers from competing for section and state titles again this season.

“My reaction to the news that the season would be suspended was that I was not surprised given the temperature of the environment we were in. The District made the right choice, 100 percent, given the hand they were dealt,” said Hill, who was going to be assisted by Leah Hilmanowski, Mike Hartung, Leah Weaver and Dana Hunter. “Not having a season will impact the kids more than anything. Not all people understand the value of what the kids learn in sports; things like team work, showing up on time and hard work along with goal setting. A lot has been taken from them. The impact I believe will be evident next season.”

Returning in hopes of returning to the state meet were seniors Kamree Carlson, Paige Johnson and Jada Renneberg; juniors Hannah Morgan and Kendra Scholz; sophomore Holly Johnson; and freshmen Morgan Koppelman and Natalia Lopez. Morgan, Scholz and Holly Johnson joined Julia Johnson to place seventh in the 4 x 100-meter relay while being disqualified in the 4 x 200-meter relay while Carlson placed ninth in the shot put at last year’s state meet. Paige Johnson, Renneberg, Koppelman and Lopez finished 15th in the 4 x 800-meter relay at the state meet.

In addition to that group, 16 other athletes were returning who scored points last spring. Juniors Savana Damar, Taylor Dravis and Liesl Smee; sophomore Chelsea Dennis, Sophie Guida, Quinn Hunter, Mackenzie Laferriere and Simone Wolff; freshmen Olivia Davis, Christina Engst, Julia Harmon, Nadia Yliniemi Hensel, Lyvia Livermore and Riley Pike; and eighth graders Cece Chase and Ava Goodwin were back after placing among the leaders in meets last season.

Those varsity veterans led the Panthers to sixth place at the Section 8AA True Team meet and third place at the Mid-State Conference meet before helping Park Rapids win the Subsection 8-29A title for the 14th straight year.

Earning all-conference honors with winning times were Morgan in the long jump; Scholz in the 300 hurdles; and Morgan, Scholz, Julia Johnson and Holly Johnson in the 4 x 100 relay. Placing second for all-conference honorable mention honors were Carlson in the shot put and Morgan in the 200.

Park Rapids once again dominated the competition at the subsection meet by winning all four relays and taking first in two individual events. Morgan was the subsection champion in the long jump while Holly Johnson took first in the pole vault. Julia Johnson, Morgan, Scholz and Holly Johnson led the field in the 4 x 100 relay and 4 x 200 relay; Renneberg, Koppelman, Lopez and Paige Johnson won the 4 x 800 relay; and Holly Johnson, Koppelman, Lopez and Paige Johnson took first in the 4 x 400 relay.

Adding runner-up finishes were Morgan (200), Scholz (300 hurdles), Carlson (shot put), Paige Johnson (high jump), Hunter (100 hurdles) and Davis (triple jump). Placing third were Renneberg (1,600), Damar (pole vault) and Chase (100 hurdles) while Harmon (3,200), Pike (triple jump), Ylliniemi Hensel (100) and Smee (1,600) finished fourth. In fifth place were Hunter (300 hurdles), Davis (400), Koppelman (pole vault) and Goodwin (high jump).

The other subsection competitors were Pike (sixth in the 300 hurdles and seventh in the long jump), Hunter (sixth in the high jump), Livermore (sixth in the 3,200), Wolff (seventh in the triple jump), Davis (seventh in the 100), Carlson (eighth in the 200 and 11th in the 100), Yliniemi Hensel (eighth in the long jump), Guida (eighth in the 1,600), Engst (ninth in the 100 hurdles), Goodwin (ninth in the 400) and Dravis (13th in the shot put and 17th in the discus). Sophomore Haley Nevala (11th in the 800) and junior Destiny Villarreal (15th in the 800) also competed in last year’s subsection meet.

At the Section 8A meet, Julia Johnson, Morgan, Scholz and Holly Johnson won the two sprint relays while Carlson took second in the shot put as did the 4 x 800 relay team of Renneberg Koppelman, Lopez and Paige Johnson. Those state-qualifying times led the Panthers to runner-up honors with 58.50 points. Barnesville won the section title with 59 points.

Just missing state trips by placing third were Morgan in the long jump and Scholz in the 300 hurdles. Also scoring points for the Panthers were the fourth-place 4 x 400 relay team of Holly Johnson, Koppelman, Lopez and Paige Johnson; Morgan in the 200 (fifth); and Paige Johnson in the high jump (tied for seventh).

Rounding out Park Rapids’ list of returning section competitors were Pike (10th in the triple jump), Damar (tied for 10th in the pole vault), Harmon (11th in the 3,200), Hunter (12th in the 100 hurdles and 15th in the 300 hurdles), Holly Johnson (13th in the pole vault), Chase (13th in the 100 hurdles), Smee (14th in the 1,600), Renneberg (15th in the 1,600) and Yliniemi Hensel (15th in the 100).

Not getting the opportunity to cap off their senior season with a chance to return to the state meet was devastating for Carlson, Johnson and Renneberg.

“I had worked so hard in the offseason this year and had such high expectations for myself and my team for the 2020 track and field season,” said Carlson. “I had my eyes fixed on the goal of getting to True Team State, earning conference titles, being subsection and section team champions, and enjoying all of those ‘lasts’ with my team. As for myself, my ultimate goal was to return to that state podium and surpass my times and distances from previous years.”

“I do feel that this cancellation really stripped our track team of a season for greatness. Having returned so many former state participants this year really would have given our team a ton of depth, experience and high expectations of returning to the state meet. I truly believe that we could have been one of the top finishers at True Team State, sent even more participants to the state meet and overall we could have been a real force to be reckoned with,” said Johnson. “This season I was hopeful to return to state with the 4 x 800 and hopefully send the 4 x 400 there as well. I also was hoping to break my personal best in high jump this year and finally jump the state cut height of 5 feet, 2 inches.”

“After being put back into Class A for True Team, we had big goals and having been on two teams who had previously made it to True Team State when I was younger I know how special of an event it is,” said Renneberg. “As a team we also wanted to get back the section title which we had the chance to win on our home track. I thought that would have been really special. Individually my 4 x 800 relay had big goals which aimed at a state medal and it is devastating that we don’t even get the chance to attempt our goal. I think one of the worst parts of this is we don’t get the proper closure from our high school athletic careers. It’s sad to think I’ll never be able to put the orange and black on again and compete for my hometown.”

Rounding out this year’s roster were seniors Bridgette Basswood, Maddy Guida, Madie Massie, Mary Nichols and Kylene Wagenman; junior Ari Borge; sophomore Bailie Karkinen; freshmen Madelyn Ackerman, Katilina Addison, Haley Kerr and Aleka London; eighth graders Grace Ackerman, Maddy Evink and Nora Gwiazdon; and seventh graders Nora Bolton, Maari Clark, Kiera Demoret, Kate Dravis, Aracely Gutierrez, Allisann Kreger, Brooke Kritzeck, Addison Lauwagie, Jena Meier, Kyla Mercil, Olivia Miller, Brandi Morgan, Amber Noteboom, Kamryn Sellin and Laney Vrieze.

“I am heartbroken for the seniors. The season being stolen from these seniors that have worked hard for eight years and then to have the rug ripped out from them is unprecedented and will be something that can never be made up. It is just lost for them and is still hard to comprehend. I'm personally heart broken for them,” said Hill. “It (the canceled season) hit us especially hard as we had what I am confident was one of the top three teams in the state. We had a very talented lineup. This was a large and super talented group that had the potential to win subsections, sections and state.”