Head coach Todd Fritze will remember this Park Rapids girls swimming and diving team for years to come.
Not only did this year’s team produce another successful season, but the Panthers had to overcome adversity in order to do it.
The COVID-19 pandemic put the season in jeopardy. The Minnesota State High School League finally announced that the girls swimming season could go on, but only dual meets could be held and there would not be a state meet. Knowing the uncertainty of the season added more stress to an already stressful situation.
“This was a mentally and physically exhausting season,” said Fritze. “Our girls came in every day with no wasted time. We had quality practices. The girls got after it because they knew the season could be canceled at any time. I’ll remember this season for the standard of excellence this team set and how great the kids were in handling everything. This is a team we will be talking about for a long time with the way they overcame adversity.”
Comprising this year’s varsity and junior varsity teams were seniors Savana Damar, Analise Smee, Ellie Ulvin and Aleah Voigt; junior Allison Offerdahl; sophomores Brielle Krabbenhoft, Massie Lee, Emma Vrieze and Maria Wagner; freshmen Amelia Bagstad, Maya Deshayes, Lizzie Seifert, Gabi Shepersky and Claire Voigt; eighth graders Nora Cederstrom, Mylee Edevold, McKenzie Himango, Laura Kaufenberg, Addison Lauwagie and Laney Vrieze; and seventh graders Iome Decker, Macie Maninga, Grace Officer and Maggie Randall. Of those 24 swimmers and divers, 19 scored points on the varsity this fall.
After opening the season with a 103-83 loss to Detroit Lakes, the Panthers went on a six-meet winning streak. Park Rapids coasted to wins over Warroad (123-58), Thief River Falls (131-37), Fosston/Bagley (107-54), Crookston (108-36) and Perham/New York Mills (103-66) before closing the regular season by avenging a loss to Detroit Lakes with a 99.50-86.50 victory.
At the Section 8A meet at Bemidji, the Panthers posted 32 season bests to finish third overall with 360 points. Grand Rapids captured the section title with 535 points while Detroit Lakes was second with 364 points.
The Panthers would have qualified three individuals in five events if the state meet would have been held. Ulvin repeated as the section champion in the 50-yard freestyle and was the runner-up in the 100 freestyle. Aleah Voigt finished second in both the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke. Emma Vrieze was the section runner-up in the 500 freestyle.
Also scoring points as individuals at the section meet were Krabbenhoft (10th in diving); Emma Vrieze (fifth), Seifert (eighth), Deshayes (12th) and Edevold (15th) in the 200 freestyle; Lee (ninth), Smee (11th) and Bagstad (12th) in the 200 individual medley; Lauwagie (sixth) and Damar (12th) in the 50 freestyle; Smee (sixth), Damar (seventh) and Claire Voigt (12th) in the 100 butterfly; Edevold (13th) and Bagstad (15th) in the 100 freestyle; Deshayes (sixth) and Seifert (seventh) in the 500 freestyle; Lauwagie (fourth) and Wagner (14th) in the 100 backstroke; and Shepersky (seventh), Cederstrom (10th) and Lee (13th) in the 100 breaststroke.
Park Rapids also took third in all three relays with Aleah Voigt, Lee, Damar and Lauwagie swimming the 200 medley relay; Ulvin, Lauwagie, Damar and Emma Vrieze comprising the 200 freestyle relay; and Emma Vrieze, Seifert, Aleah Voigt and Ulvin competing in the 400 freestyle relay.
The other section competitors were Himango (30th in the 50 freestyle and 20th in the 100 breaststroke), Offerdahl (23rd in the 100 butterfly), Wagner (29th in the 100 freestyle), Cederstrom (21st in the 500 freestyle) and Claire Voigt (tied for 18th in the 100 backstroke).
To cap off the season, the Park Rapids competed in the Panther Showcase intrasquad meet. Ulvin clocked a 54.83 in the 100 freestyle in that meet to break Caroline Schik’s school record of 54.99 set in 2001.
With their Section 8A and Panther Showcase times, Ulvin would have been the No. 8 seed in the 100 freestyle and the No. 14 seed in the 50 freestyle, Aleah Voigt would have been the No. 19 seed in the 200 individual medley and the No. 21 seed in the 100 backstroke, and Emma Vrieze would have been the No. 21 seed in the 500 freestyle if a state meet would have been held.
Ulvin led the Panthers with 152 points while Aleah Voigt (139), Emma Vrieze (129.50), Lauwagie (114) and Damar (103.50) also scored at least 100 points. Also contributing points on the varsity were Seifert (93.50), Smee (83.50), Lee (82.50), Deshayes (53), Bagstad (43), Shepersky (39, Edevold (34), Krabbenhoft (33.50), Wagner (21.50), Cederstrom (20), Claire Voigt (18.50), Himango (14), Laney Vrieze (9) and Offerdahl 3.50.
Moving into the school’s top 10 list this season were Emma Vrieze (fifth in the 200 freestyle and sixth in the 500 freestyle), Aleah Voigt (third in the 200 individual medley and eighth in the 500 freestyle) and Krabbenhoft (10th for 11 dives).
In addition to holding the school record in the 100 freestyle, Ulvin graduates rated No. 2 in the 50 freestyle and No. 5 in the 100 butterfly. Smee ranks No. 8 in the 100 butterfly, Damar ranks No. 10 in the 100 butterfly and Aleah Voigt ranks No. 4 in the 100 backstroke.
“Considering everything, this is one of the best seasons we’ve had. These kids were stressed out to the max knowing that on any given day the season could be over. I’m proud of the kids, the coaches and the parents for following all the guidelines and doing what they had to do to continue having a season. They were all in and it made for a memorable season,” said Fritze. “I don’t want to go through this again, but I’m glad I had to go through it with this team. The girls were awesome. I can’t say enough about this team. Adversity reveals character and this team showed a lot of character. It was cool watching them perform at a high level. We had a great season.”
Looking ahead to next season, the Panthers have four key swimmers to replace in the four seniors. However, the year of experience gained by the younger swimmers under stressful circumstances has Fritze expecting another successful season in 2021.
“The seniors were mainstays for quite a few years. They were great leaders and great swimmers, but more importantly, they’re great people. We’re going to miss them,” said Fritze. “Even with the pandemic, we had high standards this season. We’re going to have more of the same next year. You can’t replace the seniors, so we’re going to have to have other kids step up and get in the driver’s seat. We have a lot of talent coming back. Our goals for next year are the same as every other year. We’re going to train for sections and swim our fastest at the section meet.”