Panthers were grateful for a chance to run
Veterans and newcomers combined to lead Park Rapids to a successful cross country season.
New additions made the season a success for the Park Rapids boys and girls cross country teams.
With only four regulars returning, the Panthers had to rely on new runners to fill out the varsity rosters. Those newcomers played key roles in Park Rapids’ success this fall.
Seniors Skylar Hagen and Owen Wagner and juniors Darryl Etter and Sam Warne returned from last year’s boys team while sophomore Julia Harmon was expected to lead the girls team. However, Harmon missed the entire season with an injury.
Senior Ronaldo De La Cruz Gomez also returned with some varsity experience while senior Nathanial Bervig, sophomore Eli Bervig and eighth grader Ephraim Bervig joined the boys team after competing for Wadena-Deer Creek last season. Those eight would comprise the boys team in the eight meets this fall.
The addition of the Bervig brothers helped the Panthers contend for Mid-State Conference and Section 8A titles while the sophomore duo of Natalia Lopez and Aleka London would compete for the girls this fall. Also competing in cross country this fall were nine boys who ran junior varsity and junior high and three girls who ran junior high races. The majority of those runners were new to cross country.
Because of COVID-19, only triangular meets were held during the regular season and the section meet was run in waves of four teams with no state meet being held.
“We were grateful to have a season,” said Park Rapids head coach Patrick Richard. “It was exciting to have so many people running cross country for the first time. They all took the season in stride and adapted well during this COVID season.”
In the season opener at Pine River, the Panthers earned runner-up honors with 32 points as Nevis took first with 29 points. Pine River-Backus was third with 71 points. Leading Park Rapids were Nathaniel Bervig (fourth), Etter (fifth), Eli Bervig (sixth), Ephraim Bervig (seventh), De La Cruz Gomez (10th), Warne (13th) and Wagner (14th). Lopez and London didn’t compete at that meet.
Etter, Eli Bervig, Ephraim Bervig, Nathaniel Bervig and De La Cruz Gomez led the pack as the Panthers won the Crosby-Ironton triangular at Ruttger’s with a perfect 15 points. Warne (seventh) and Wagner (eighth) rounded out Park Rapids’ varsity team. Crosby-Ironton and Pillager had incomplete teams. For the girls, Lopez was fifth and London finished seventh as Pillager (27) edged out C-I (29) for the team title.
Staples-Motley, which was rated No. 3 among state Class A teams at the time, defeated the Panthers in a dual meet at Headwaters Golf Club. Staples-Motley tallied a perfect 15 points as Etter (sixth), Nathaniel Bervig (seventh), Ephraim Bevig (10th), Eli Bervig (11th) and Warne (12th) led the Panthers to 47 points. De La Cruz Gomez (13th) and Wagner (14th) rounded out Park Rapids’ varsity squad. Lopez was seventh and London placed eighth for the girls against the Cardinals, who were rated No. 4 in the state poll.
Park Rapids hosted a meet at Fair Havens Golf Course with Nevis leading the way with 27 points. The Panthers finished second with 30 points as Nathaniel Bervig, Etter, Eli Bervig, Ephraim Bervig, De La Cruz Gomez and Warne finished in the 4-9 spots. Eighth grader Thomas Lopez finished 13th in his varsity debut. Crosby-Ironton had an incomplete team. For the girls, Lopez was fourth and London placed ninth as Nevis took first with 27 points to edge out C-I’s 31 points.
In the second trip to Pine River, the Panthers won their second title with another perfect score. Etter, Ephraim Bervig, De La Cruz Gomez, Eli Bervig and Nathaniel Bervig claimed the top 5 spots while Warne was eighth and Hagen finished ninth. PR-B was second with 46 points while C-I had an incomplete team. Lopez was fifth and London placed sixth for the girls as C-I took first with 23 points and PR-B was second with 32 points.
Park Rapids captured its third title of the season at the Ashby-Brandon-Evansville triangular with 18 points. Etter led the way with Ephraim Bervig (second), Nathaniel Bervig (fourth), Eli Bervig (fifth), De La Cruz Gomez (sixth), Warne (eighth) and Hagen (13th) following. A-B-E was second with 40 points and Pillager took third with 85 points. Lopez and London posted a 2-3 finish for the girls as Pillager took first with 18 points. A-B-E had 44 points.
Etter and the Bervig brothers earned all-conference honors as the Panthers claimed runner-up honors at the Mid-State Conference meet with 54 points. That was Park Rapids’ best showing at the conference meet since placing second in 1995. Etter, Eli Bervig and Ephraim Bervig finished in the 7-9 spots to earn all-conference honors while Nathaniel Bervig finished 12th for all-conference honorable mention honors. De La Cruz Gomez was 18th to round out the Panthers’ team score while Warne was 26th and Wagner placed 28th. Staples-Motley won the title with 24 points. Staples-Motley, which moved up to the No. 1 spot in the state poll, also won the girls title with 29 points as London finished 16th and Lopez placed 19th for the Panthers.
Etter capped off the season by placing 10th at the Section 8A meet at Bagley. That finish would have qualified Etter for his first state meet. Ephraim Bervig (25th), Nathaniel Bervig (28th), Eli Bervig (35th) and Warne (41st) completed the Panthers’ team score of 136 points for third place. De La Cruz Gomez (52nd) and Wagner (67th) also ran for Park Rapids, which trailed Perham (50) and East Grand Forks (87) in the team standings. Perham, which won the section title for the 15th year in a row, was rated No. 6 in the state poll while EGF was rated No. 14. London placed 45th in her section debut as the Panthers’ only runner. Perham won the section title for the ninth straight year with 56 points while Hawley was second with 69 points. Perham was rated No. 4 and Hawley was rated No. 5 in the state poll.
Team awards for the boys went to Etter (MVP and Most Spirit), De La Cruz Gomez (Hardest Worker and Toughest Runner), Wagner (Coaches Award) and eighth grader Landon Strasburg (Newcomer of the Year). Winning team awards for the girls were Lopez (MVP), London (Hardest Worker) and Harmon (Coaches Award).
“It was a satisfying season for both the girls and boys teams,” said Richard. “The boys progressed well throughout the season. They continued to bond and push each other in practice, which resulted in them pushing each other in races. Aleka and Natalia joined cross country this year as newcomers for the girls team. They proved to be naturals at cross country. Both are solid track runners and it is fun to have their talent on our team. We as coaches could not be any more impressed with how they competed as a dynamic duo. Julia, though injured this season, was an incredible mentor for the varsity and junior high girls by offering her insight and experience with the girls team.”
Even though the Panthers will have to replace four key runners with the graduation of Nathaniel Bervig, De La Cruz Gomez, Hagen and Wagner, Richard is looking forward to seeing more success from the Panthers next fall.
“Owen, Skylar, Ronaldo and Nate are four young men who showed extreme dedication to our program. Their leadership and presence will be irreplaceable. Their work ethic, positivity and leadership will serve them well in their very bright futures ahead,” said Richard. “Overall, this group has shown they know how to have fun, stay positive, work hard and take pride in what they do. They represent what this community is all about. It was a fun season with plenty of highlights. Having another season with so many new runners was great. It was exciting having a handful of football players try cross country for the first time. Most of our junior high boys and girls were in their first season of the sport as well. Between Aleka and Natalia for our girls team and the depth of our boys team, our squads were solid this year. Those returning next year understand the standard that was set this year and will look to take that next step in our program expectations this upcoming fall.”