Benson, Runyan take different paths to state
Park Rapids will be represented at the state Class A boys swimming and diving meet in two swimming events and diving.
Qualifying for the state Class A boys swimming and diving meet for the fourth time was easy for Park Rapids senior Marcus Benson. Qualifying for state for the first time was a lot tougher for Park Rapids freshman Cameron Runyan.
Benson capped off his final section meet by easily winning titles in the 200-yard individual medley and 100-yard backstroke while Runyan had to battle to claim the final state berth by placing fourth in diving during the finals of the Section 5A meet at Morris on Feb. 22.
Benson entered as the favorite to repeat as the section champion in both events and lived up to those expectations by leading the field with a 2:02.93 in the 200 individual medley and a 52.76 in the 100 backstroke to break the Section 5A record of 53.37 set by Sartell’s Mitch Dockendorff in 2017.
“I wanted to win both my individual events,” said Benson, who was named the Section 5A Swimmer of the Year. “I was the No. 1 seed in both going in, so I was pretty confident. I was more confident in the backstroke and a little less confident in the IM. I fell a little short of my time goals. I was a second slower than I wanted to be in the IM and in the backstroke, but I’ll take it. I’m going to state in both.”
During the preliminaries on Feb. 21, Benson entered with a seed time of 2:05.79 in the 200 individual medley and dropped that time to a 2:02.93 to take first as Alexandria’s Torrey Olson-Rodel finished a distant second in 2:07.21. In the 100 backstroke, Benson entered with a season best of 53.92 and again led the field in 53.31 to break the section record. Detroit Lakes’ John Gulon finished a distant second in 57.42.
In the finals, Benson easily repeated as the section champ in both races by dropping more time. Olson-Rodel finished second in the 200 individual medley in 2:07.21 while Gulon claimed the other state trip in the 100 backstroke with a 57.42.
In his previous three section meets, Benson clocked a 56.18 to finish second in the 100 backstroke in 2017 before following with winning times of 54.09 in 2018 and 53.85 last season. In the 200 individual medley, Benson clocked a 2:06.82 to place fifth in 2018 and a state-qualifying time of 2:03.57 to finish third last season.
Runyan had to deliver on his final dive to finish with 301.25 points and secure his first trip to state.
Before the season began, Runyan was planning on just concentrating on swimming.
“I wasn’t going to dive this season, but coach (Megan Rykhus) told me she needed me to dive,” said Runyan. “I said I’d do it, but I said that I wasn’t going to dive next year if I didn’t make it to state. I was just joking around. I didn’t think I’d make it (to state). I’m glad I decided to dive this year.”
After his first five dives, Runyan was in fourth place with 145.30 points, trailing Alexandria’s Caden Kavanagh (159.40), Bemidji’s Aiden Saari (156.55) and Sartell’s Carsyn Peterson (148.15). Following his next three dives, the Park Rapids freshman remained in fourth place with 223.80 points to trail Kavanagh (247.05), Saari (240.50) and Peterson (227.05). Right behind Runyan were Alexandria’s Aidan Staples (223.75), Bemidji’s Braden Olson (211.05) and Sartell’s David Binsfeld (209.75).
Runyan, who entered as the No. 5 seed with a 301.35, held on to the final state spot after his final three dives in the finals. Saari claimed the section title with 355.95 points while Kavanagh took second with 352.05 points and Binsfeld moved up to third with 312.05 points. Runyan edged out Peterson (299.15) and Olson (294.60) for the final state berth.
“I was in fourth place going into the finals and I was hoping to keep that spot. I was extremely nervous. It came down to the last dive. I was hoping I wouldn’t fail it,” said Runyan, who was the fifth diver in the rotation of 15 divers. “It was extremely stressful. I knew the scores were crazy close to mine. We were keeping track of the scores and I had a feeling I was in fourth. After I knew I made it to state, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.”
Both Park Rapids athletes entered the state meet looking to advance to the finals.
Benson was looking to return to the podium in both events in his fourth and final state meet. Benson broke school records and earned all-state honors in both events last season by placing sixth in the 200 individual medley in 1:58.25 and third in the 100 backstroke in 51.52. Benson also earned all-state honors in the 100 backstroke in 2018 by placing fifth in 53.83 after placing 11th in 54.94 in 2017. The Park Rapids senior entered state seeded No. 4 in the 100 backstroke and No. 7 in the 200 individual medley.
Runyan, who has been diving with a broken toe for the last two weeks, was hoping to execute his first eight dives to be among the final 16.
“Going to state was my top goal this season,” said Runyan, who entered state as the No. 16 seed out of 24 qualifiers. “Hopefully I can make it to the finals.”
“I want to medal again in both. I went the fastest ever coming out of sections, so I feel good about that. I didn’t have my greatest races, but I didn’t shave down for sections. I feel I still have something left in the tank,” said Benson. “I know if I PR (personal record), I’ll be in the top 8 in the IM. I want to go faster and break my record. In the backstroke, I’m hoping to bring home a state championship.”