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Panthers delivered, earned trips to state swimming meet

Senior Spencer Fritze and junior Marcus Benson were expected to return to the state Class A boys swimming and diving meet while seniors Seth Breitweser and Zach Fritze were looking to help a relay qualify.

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Qualifying for the state Class A boys swimming and diving meet for the Panthers were (from left) Marcus Benson, Spencer Fritze, Seth Breitweser and Zach Fritze. Submitted photo

Senior Spencer Fritze and junior Marcus Benson were expected to return to the state Class A boys swimming and diving meet while seniors Seth Breitweser and Zach Fritze were looking to help a relay qualify.

All four earned state berths as Park Rapids qualified in five events during the finals of the Section 5A meet at Sartell on Feb. 23.

The four Panthers opened the section meet by qualifying in the 200-yard medley relay with a state-qualifying time of 1:42.09 for fourth place. Benson followed with a third-place time of 2:03.57 in the 200 individual medley to break the school record and advance. Spencer Fritze placed third in the 50 freestyle in 22.48 to qualify and won the section title in diving with 460.40 points to break his school record. Breitweser also qualified for state in diving by claiming the final spot by placing fourth with 343.95 points. Benson capped off the meet by winning the section title in the 100 backstroke in 53.85 after breaking his school record with a 53.50 during preliminaries.

All four will be looking to advance to the state finals on March 2 at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

Medley relay sets tone

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Qualifying for state in the 200 medley relay took some of the pressure off for the rest of the meet.

During preliminaries, the Panthers placed fourth in 1:41.81 to easily top the state-qualifying time of 1:43.37. In the finals, Benson clocked a 24.97 in the backstroke, Spencer Fritze went 27.33 in the breaststroke, Zach Fritze had a 25.56 split in the butterfly and Breitweser anchored with a 24.23 in the freestyle for a 1:42.09 and a state berth.

"We were sitting pretty good after we went under the state cut (during preliminaries)," said Benson. "Once we knew our ticket was punched, we were able to relax and swim."

"We knew we had to swim fast," said Spencer Fritze. "We knew we had a good shot. When we got under cut (during preliminaries) we knew we could do it."

"My expectations were pretty high," said Zach Fritze. "We'd worked hard all year and had our individual strokes down pat. I thought our chances were good especially after making the cut time (during preliminaries). We did it once, so we knew we could do it again."

"We were pretty confident," said Breitweser. "We knew we could get the state cut for sure."

Spencer Fritze and Benson earned their fourth straight state trip in this event, helping the Panthers place 20th in 1:44.94 in 2016, 20th in 1:42.26 in 2017 and fourth to earn all-state honors in 1:38.14 last season. That relay will enter state as the No. 14 seed out of 21 qualifiers.

"I'm hoping we finish in the top 16 and make it to the second day," said Benson. "Hopefully we'll go a little faster."

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"I hope we can finish higher than we're seeded and make it back the second day," said Spencer Fritze.

"I'm hoping we finish in the top 8," said Zach Fritze, who joined Spencer Fritze on the 200 freestyle relay team that placed 12th at last year's state meet. "If we can drop a little time, it's doable."

"Our goal is top 8," said Breitweser. "It's going to be a close one for sure."

Benson sets two records

Benson figured he'd need to break the school record in order to qualify for state in the 200 individual medley.

After accomplishing that goal, breaking his own school record in the 100 backstroke was a bonus.

Benson put himself in position to qualify in both events with solid times during preliminaries.

The Park Rapids junior finished third in the 200 individual medley in 2:04.11, which was easily under the state cut of 2:06.25 and broke Elliot Lawrence's school record of 2:05.32 set in 2008. Benson followed with a 2:03.57 for third place in the finals to set a new school record and qualify for state in that event for the first time.

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"I thought my chances were pretty high," said Benson. "I thought I had to break it (the school record) to make it to state. When I was 2 seconds under the state cut, I knew I had a good chance."

In the preliminaries of the 100 backstroke, Benson led the field with a winning time of 53.50 to easily top the cut time of 57.04 and break his school record of 53.68 set last season. Benson locked up a state berth with a winning time of 53.85 in the finals.

"I was the No. 1 seed going in, so I was really confident," said Benson. "After the first day, I felt really good about my chances."

Benson will enter state as the No. 13 seed out of 26 swimmers in the 200 individual medley and the No. 4 seed out of 24 qualifiers in the 100 backstroke. Benson, who placed 11th in 54.94 in 2017 and fifth to earn all-state honors in 53.83 last season in the 100 backstroke, was looking to reach the finals in both events.

"I'm hoping to improve my time and make it to the second day (in the 200 individual medley)," said Benson. "I'm hoping to go a 52 and make top 3 (in the 100 backstroke). I think my chances are pretty good."

Fritze returns in 50 free

After qualifying for state in the 50 freestyle as a freshman and sophomore, Spencer Fritze decided to give up that event and help the Panthers qualify for state in all three relays as a junior last season.

That move paid off as the Panthers placed in all three relays at last year's state meet to set a school record by scoring 83 points for 10th place.

This season, Fritze again focused on the 50 freestyle and earned his third state trip in that event.

During preliminaries, Fritze clocked a winning time of 22.30 to hit the state-cut time. In the finals, Fritze finished third in 22.48 to claim the final state berth.

"I knew it would be pretty close," said Fritze. "The first day I swam the state cut and I was hoping to swim a little faster (in the finals). I swam a little slower, but I got third and that's all I needed."

Fritze, who placed 21st in 1:06.56 in the 100 breaststroke as an eighth grader before placing 25th in 23.01 in 2016 and 26th in 22.85 in 2017 in the 50 freestyle, will be looking to improve on his No. 14 seed out of 19 qualifiers in his final state trip.

"It's going to be super close," said Fritze. "Hopefully I can swim faster and drop time."

Divers earn state trips

While Spencer Fritze was favored to return to state in diving for the fifth time, Breitweser was looking to cap off his senior season with his first state trip.

Both fulfilled their goals by executing 11 solid dives.

Fritze held the lead after the semifinal round with 312.85 points while Breitweser was in fourth place with 230.65 points as the top-four divers secured trips to state.

Both held those spots after the final three dives as Fritze broke his school record of 460.20 points set in 2017 with 460.40 points while Breitweser finished with 343.95 points.

"I was seeded first, but I knew I had to hit all 11 dives," said Fritze, who was named the Section 5A Diver of the Year. "I just focused on one dive at a time and diving like I normally do."

"I was a little nervous, but I thought my chances were pretty good. I barely got there, but I'm happy," said Breitweser, who was seeded fifth entering the section meet. "I had two or three OK dives, but the rest were pretty solid. I knew I had to hit my last three dives. Those were my best dives of the meet."

Both will enter state looking to place with Fritze focused on earning all-state honors for the third time. Fritze placed 10th with 345.00 points in 2015, 13th with 347.80 points in 2016, seventh with 340.25 points for all-state honors in 2017 and fifth with 360.75 points for all-state honors last season.

"My goal is top 8," said Breitweser. "It's going to be close.

"I'm going to do the best I can on all 11 dives," said Fritze. "If I dive like I did at sections, I think I can be all-state again."

Related Topics: SWIMMING AND DIVING
1982 Dawson-Boyd High School graduate
1987 Moorhead State University graduate
Sports reporter for Park Rapids Enterprise since 1987
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