New cross-country coach looking to build team unity
Park Rapids runners hope to improve, peak at section meet
Pat Richard is focusing on improvement and building unity as he takes over as head coach of the Park Rapids boys and girls cross-country teams.
“I want to make cross country an enjoyable sport that kids want to come out for,” said Richard, who was the Panthers’ junior high coach last season. “I want to make sure everyone is enjoying the sport and growing as individuals. I want to use cross country as a way to teach life lessons and build a good atmosphere where we improve and are competitive.”
The Panthers return only nine runners who competed in a varsity meet last season. That group features seniors Marcus Benson and Keegan Moses; juniors Skylar Hagen and Owen Wagner; sophomores Holly Johnson, Mikaela Nelson and Sam Warne; and freshmen Julia Harmon and Blaine Hensel. Freshman Pierce DeBlieck also returns after running junior varsity last fall.
The Park Rapids boys finished in the lower half of the team standings in every meet last season, capping off the fall by placing fifth at the six-team Mid-State Conference meet with 134 points and 13th at the 24-team Section 8A meet with 329 points. Staples-Motley captured the conference title with 27 points while Perham repeated as section champs with 21 points. East Grand Forks claimed the other berth to the state Class A meet with a runner-up 63 points.
Moses returns as the Panthers’ top runner after placing 19th at the conference meet and 28th at the section meet. Hagen was Park Rapids’ No. 4 runner last season, finishing 31st at the Mid-State meet and 102nd at the section meet. Warne placed 34th at the conference meet as the team’s No. 5 runner and 110th at the section meet as the No. 6 finisher. Wagner was the Panthers’ No. 6 runner at the conference meet by placing 35th and the No. 5 runner by finishing 105th at the section meet.
Harmon and Johnson competed in every meet as the girls didn’t field a complete five-member team all season. Harmon returns as the top runner after earning all-conference honorable mention honors by placing 14th at the Mid-State meet and placing 45th at the section meet. Johnson followed close behind, finishing 16th at the conference meet and 51st at the section meet. Nelson finished 31st at the conference meet.
The Panthers have four key spots to fill after the graduation of Gabe Bagstad, Seth Breitweser, Ashton Clark and Whitney Steffel. All four of the graduated runners competed at the conference and section meets with Breitweser placing 21st at the Mid-State meet and 32nd at the section meet as the team’s No. 2 runner; Clark placing 29th at the conference meet and 73rd at the section meet as the Panthers’ No. 3 runner; Bagstad placing 36th at the Mid-State meet and 118th at the section meet as Park Rapids’ No. 7 runner; and Steffel placing 30th at the Mid-State meet and 80th at the section meet as the No. 3 runner for the girls.
Looking to fill those spots for the boys are seniors Hunter Brandt and Kolby Brandt; junior Kyron Wohlenhaus; sophomores Darryl Thompson Etter and Kaleb Stearns; freshman Caleb Arola; eighth grader Blake Morris; and seventh graders James Albrecht, Tyler Officer and Thomas Lopez. Sophomore Amelia Berg will compete for the girls.
“Having a good number of new runners along with our experienced runners, a main goal for us is to establish and maintain unity. Like all sports, cross country requires perseverance which has a special way of bringing teams together. Even within the first couple of weeks the comradery is evident, which speaks to the character of these athletes,” said Richard. “Another goal for us is to enjoy ourselves through comradery, progress, competition and giving 100-percent effort every day.”
Richard is looking to recruit some more runners and use the regular season to get ready to peak at the section meet.
“I’m happy with our numbers. The girls are going to have to run as individuals because we don’t have a full girls team. But it’s not out of the question that we can get some more girls to join. The boys return some experienced runners who have athleticism and a good work ethic. This could be a competitive group that shouldn’t be overlooked,” said Richard. “Everybody is getting better every day and I look for us to improve as a team and achieve the goals each individual has set. We’re going to use the meets to get ready to make a run at the section meet.”