Panthers excelled in the pool

New head coach was pleased with performances of the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team.

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Marcus Benson concluded his senior season by earning Section 5A Swimmer of the Year honors and earning all-state honors in the 200-yard individual medley and 100-yard backstroke. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Going 3-4 in dual meets, placing fifth at the Section 5A meet, sending two individuals to the state Class A meet and having a swimmer earn two all-state honors highlighted a successful season for first-year head coach Megan Rykhus and the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team.

Senior Marcus Benson and freshman Cameron Runyan capped off the season by qualifying for the state meet at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. Benson placed second in the 100-yard backstroke and fifth in the 200-yard individual medley with school-record times to repeat as an all-state swimmer in both events to put the finishing touches on a stellar high school career.

In addition to the two state qualifiers, the Panthers received solid contributions from the other 10 letterwinners: senior Dominik Backmann; juniors Elliott Nichols and Jacob Zinniel; freshmen Nicholas Graham, Matthew Lichter, Malachi Martin, Jordan Odor and Isaac Zinniel; eighth grader Joshua David; and seventh grader Leo Kaufenberg. Sophomore Guiseppi Jenkins, freshman Daniel Hoyt and seventh grader Josiah Smee also competed this season.

“I think it was a really great first season as head coach,” said Rykhus. “It was full of learning experiences, but I had a lot of great support, which is always helpful.”

In the season opener, the Panthers claimed runner-up honors at the six-team Fergus Falls Invitational with 295 points. Fergus Falls took first with 485 points.


After dropping dual meets to Bemidji (104-70), Grand Rapids (109-61) and Melrose/Sauk Centre (104-60), the Panthers defeated Perham/New York Mills (109-49) and Detroit Lakes (91-82) in duals against Mid-State Conference rivals.

Park Rapids placed fifth out of six teams at the Section 5A True Team meet at Morris with 392 points as Sartell-St. Stephen topped the field with 1,117 points. The Panthers closed out their dual schedule with a 100-68 win over Thief River Falls and a 118-60 loss to Bemidji. At the Last Chance Invitational, the host Panthers placed fourth with 353.50 points as Bemidji led the four-team field with 572.50 points.

Park Rapids captured runner-up honors at the Mid-State Conference meet at the Area High School pool with 368 points as Detroit Lakes took first with 400 points. Perham rounded out the three-team meet with 336 points.

Five Panthers won titles to earn all-conference honors. Taking first in individual events were Benson in the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke, Odor in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle, and Runyan in diving. Odor, Runyan, Martin and Jacob Zinniel also won the 400 freestyle relay. Benson broke the conference record in the 100 backstroke.

Finishing second to earn all-conference honorable mention honors were Jacob Zinniel in the 100 breaststroke; Isaac Zinniel, Jacob Zinniel, Benson and Runyan in the 200 medley relay; and Benson, Isaac Zinniel, Runyan and Odor in the 200 freestyle relay. Isaac Zinniel (in the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke), Jacob Zinniel (in the 100 freestyle) and Backmann (in the 500 freestyle) also earned all-conference honorable mention honors by placing third.

The Panthers placed fifth at the 10-team Section 5A meet at Morris with 179 points as Sartell-St. Stephen claimed the team title with 491 points. Alexandria (484), Melrose/Sauk Centre (305) and Bemidji (231) followed.

Benson qualified for the state Class A meet by winning the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke (by breaking the section record) in earning Section 5A Swimmer of the Year honors while Runyan advanced by placing fourth in diving. Also placing in the finals at the section meet were Benson, Jacob Zinniel, Nichols and Runyan in the 200 medley relay (fifth); Isaac Zinniel, Nichols, Runyan and Odor in the 200 freestyle relay (sixth); Odor, Runyan, Nichols and Benson in the 400 freestyle relay (sixth); Nichols in the 100 butterfly (sixth); and Odor in the 500 freestyle (sixth). The Panthers clocked 10 season bests in the 10 events in the finals.

Swimming in the consolation finals were Odor (ninth in the 200 freestyle), Isaac Zinniel (10th in the 100 backstroke) and Jacob Zinniel (15th in the 100 breaststroke). The other section competitors were Isaac Zinniel (17th in the 200 individual medley), Jacob Zinniel (23rd in the 100 freestyle) and Backmann (19th in the 500 freestyle and 24th in the 200 freestyle).


“The boys swam well and supported each other throughout the ups and downs of our season and surpassed the expectations I had set for them at the beginning of the season,” said Rykhus. “They worked incredibly hard throughout the season battling sickness and injuries to swim well at sections.”

Benson’s pair of all-state finishes gave Park Rapids 22nd place at the Class A meet with 31 points. Breck/Blake led the field with 342 points as 34 teams scored points. The Park Rapids senior capped off his fourth and final state meet by placing fifth in the 200-yard individual medley in 1:56.63 and finishing second in the 100-yard backstroke in 51.01 to repeat as an all-state swimmer and break his school records in both events.

In addition to breaking those two school records, Benson broke the school and pool record in the 200 freestyle with a 1:48.31. Benson, who was named the team’s MVP, moved up to the No. 2 spot in the 100 butterfly (54.97), the No. 2 spot in the 100 freestyle (49.37), the No. 6 spot in the 50 freestyle (22.72) and the No. 10 spot in the 500 freestyle (5:23.65) on the school’s all-time list while compiling 297 points this season.

Runyan finished second in points with 289 and moved up to the No. 8 spot for 11 dives with 301.35 points. Odor followed with 287 points while taking over the No. 6 spot in the 200 freestyle (1:55.60) and the No. 7 spot in the 500 freestyle (5:18.75) to earn the team’s Hardest Worker award. Isaac Zinniel compiled 232.50 points while Nichols finished with 232 points and took over the No. 10 spot in the 100 butterfly (58.51). Jacob Zinniel had 201 points while Backmann tallied 108 points and received the Most Spirited honor.

Also scoring at least 50 points this season were Martin (93.50), Kaufenberg (82.50), Lichter (81.50), David (70.50) and Graham (65). Smee (39.50), Jenkins (30.50) and Hoyt (21) also contributed points with Hoyt earning the team’s Most Improved honor.

Having Benson and Backmann graduate will leave two key spots to fill. However, the return of 13 swimmers and divers has Rykhus optimistic about the future of the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving program.

“We graduate Dominick and Marcus, two fantastic team members. They stepped up this year whether it was supporting our younger athletes at meets or encouraging their teammates during a tough practice. Each athlete brings something different to the team just as each team changes and grows throughout the season. These two athletes will be missed next year not only for their swimming ability, but the roles they had on the team,” said Rykhus, who was assisted by Sarah Heise. “Others will need to step up next year into whatever roles are needed because each year is different and the needs change throughout the season. The teams change and evolve, but high expectations are still the standard in and out of the pool. I look forward to seeing what the boys will do with the given opportunities presented to them.”

Points: Benson 297, Runyan 289, Odor 287, I. Zinniel 232.50, Nichols 232, J. Zinniel 201, Backmann 108, Martin 93.50, Kaufenberg 32.50, Lichter 81.50, David 70.50, Graham 65, Smee 39.50, Jenkins 30.50, Hoyt 21.
50 freestyle: Benson 22.72, Nichols 25.09, I. Zinniel 25.65, Odor 26.07, Runyan 26.12, J. Zinniel 27.06, Kaufenberg 28.32, Martin 29.33, David 30.25, Backmann 30.75, Jenkins 32.40, Lichter 33.17, Smee 33.23, Hoyt 35.38.
100 freestyle: Benson 49.37, Odor 53.53, Nichols 56.02, J. Zinniel 57.15, Runyan 59.96, I. Zinniel 1:01.29, Martin 1:03.04, Jenkins 1:10.59, Backmann 1:10.99, Kaufenberg 1:11.77, David 1:13.43, Lichter 1:13.47, Graham 1:13.72, Smee 1:17.83, Hoyt 1:26.36.
200 freestyle: Benson 1:48.31, Odor 1:55.60, Nichols 2:10.94, I. Zinniel 2:18.94, Backmann 2:25.92, J. Zinniel 2:26.89, Martin 2:29.71, Graham 2:36.82, Smee 2:45.56, Kaufenberg 2:46.66, Litchter 3:01.03.
500 freestyle: Odor 5:18.75, Benson 5:23.65, Nichols 6:10.26, J. Zinniel 6:22.71, Backmann 6:42.50, Runyan 6:43.16, I. Zinniel 6:51.51, Martin 6:57.73, Graham 6:59.72,
100 backstroke: Benson 51.01, Odor 1:03.91, I. Zinniel 1:05.20, Runyan 1:07.43, J. Zinniel 1:13.68, Lichter 1:20.70, Jenkins 1:23.29, Graham 1:25.70, David 1:31.41, Hoyt 2:19.42.
100 breaststroke: Benson 1:10.25, J. Zinniel 1:16.51, I. Zinniel 1:19.19, Graham 1:31.39, David 1:42.03, Smee 1:44.86, Lichter 1:48.69.
100 butterfly: Benson 54.97, Nichols 58.51, Odor 1:08.20, Kaufenberg 1:23.77, Martin 1:27.29, Backmann 1:28.95.
200 individual medley: Benson 2:01.04, Odor 2:26.54, I. Zinniel 2:26.87, J. Zinniel 2:44.90, Graham 2:50.56, Martin 3:00.57, Backmann 3:11.44, Lichter 3:23.10.
Diving (6 dives): Runyan 172.95 points.

Diving (11 dives): 301.35 points.


1982 Dawson-Boyd High School graduate
1987 Moorhead State University graduate
Sports reporter for Park Rapids Enterprise since 1987
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