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Park Rapids cross country teams had solid season

Pat Richard was satisfied with the Panthers' performances in his first year as the Panthers' head coach.

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Julia Harmon (left) and Holly Johnson led a group of runners at the Section 8A meet at Bagley. Those two runners led the Park Rapids girls cross country team all season. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

When Pat Richard took over as the head coach of the Park Rapids boys and girls cross country teams this fall, he wanted to continue building on the program’s history of success.

The first-time head coach was satisfied with how his first season went.

“Kerry (Johnson) left me with a solid program and I want to continue that tradition,” said Richard. “I thought the season went well. It was a learning curve for me. I learned a lot and I received a lot of support from Kerry and other coaches in the area. They were a big help. I can’t thank them enough.”

The boys team had 12 runners compete in a varsity meet while the girls team had only six varsity runners with only two of those competing in more than two races. With only four seniors on the two teams and good numbers in the junior high program, Richard is optimistic about the future of Park Rapids cross country.

“I feel good about the program,” said Richard. “Our goals are to continue to work hard, grow, improve and get better. I’m looking forward to next season.”

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Boys finished in middle of pack

With only four runners returning from last year’s team that placed 13th at the Section 8A meet, Richard was counting on some first-year runners to take over key roles and help the Panthers improve on that finish.

The Panthers were able to accomplish that goal.

Senior Keegan Moses, juniors Skylar Hagen and Owen Wagner, and sophomore Sam Warne returned after competing in last year’s section meet. Unfortunately, Moses would miss the majority of his senior season with a leg injury, leaving four varsity spots to fill.

Senior Marcus Benson and freshman Blaine Hensel returned after competing in varsity meets last season while sophomore Kaleb Stearns was back after not running cross country last fall after being a section participant in 2017. Competing on varsity for the first time this season were junior Kyron Wohlenhaus and four newcomers: seniors Kolby Brandt and Hunter Brandt, junior Ronaldo De La Cruz Gomez, and sophomore Darryl Etter.

That group helped the Panthers finish in the middle of the pack in most meets this season.

At the season-opening Central Minnesota River Run at Staples, the Panthers finished fourth out of 14 teams with 124 points. Staples-Motley took first with 17 points. Leading Park Rapids were Etter (13th), Hagen (20th), Kolby Brandt (32nd), Warne (41st), Hunter Brandt (57th), Stearns (62nd) and Wohlenhaus (63rd).

The Panthers followed by finishing sixth at the 14-team Wadena-Deer Creek Invitational with 157 points as the host Wolverines claimed the title with 35 points. Hagen (19th), Warne (28th), Stearns (36th), Wagner (37th), Hunter Brandt (42nd) and Benson (43rd) led the Panthers.

At the Bagley/Fosston Invitational, Etter (23rd), Hagen (38th), Stearns (65th), Kolby Brandt (68th), Benson (84th), Wagner (95th) and Hensel (98th) led the Panthers to ninth place with 252 points. Frazee topped the 25-team field with 77 points.

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Park Rapids placed 25th out of 51 teams at the Milaca Mega Meet with 653 points with Etter (85th), Hagen (124th), Stearns (146th), Kolby Brandt (178th), Hunter Brandt (219th), Benson (220th) and Hensel (224th) competing. West Central Area took first with 67 points.

The Panthers captured the team title at the eight-team Pelican Rapids Invitational with 48 points with Etter (fourth), Hagen (ninth), Warne (10th), Kolby Brandt (11th), Stearns (14th), Wagner (25th) and Benson (26th) leading the way.

Perham ran away with the team title at the Perham Invitational with 40 points as the Panthers finished 15th out of 29 teams with 478 points. Etter (73rd), Hagen (89th), Warne (94th), Kolby Brandt (102nd), Stearns (120th), Wagner (135th) and Benson (139th) comprised Park Rapids’ varsity squad.

In the regular-season finale, the Panthers finished fifth at the six-team Mid-State Conference meet at Ruttger’s with 122 points as Staples-Motley claimed the team title with 25 points. Leading the Panthers were Etter (14th), Warne (22nd), Hagen (25th), Kolby Brandt (30th), Stearns (31st), Wagner (35th) and De La Cruz Gomez (36th).

Weather forced the Park Rapids Invitational to be canceled as the Panthers were unable to host a meet at home for the second year in a row.

Park Rapids moved up to 10th place at the Section 8A meet at Bagley as Etter (23rd), Warne (35th), Kolby Brandt (53rd), Hagen (68th), Wagner (83rd), Benson (91st) and Stearns (99th) comprised the team score of 242 points. Perham compiled 22 points to win the section title for the 14th year in a row while East Grand Forks earned the other trip to state with a runner-up 98 points in the 24-team field.

Perham, which was rated No. 1 in the final state poll, won the state Class A title for the third year in a row. West Central Area was second, Staples-Motley finished fifth and East Grand Forks finished 10th at the state meet.

Etter was named the Panthers’ MVP after being the team’s No. 1 runner in all seven meets in which he competed. Hagen was the team’s No. 2 runner in five meets while Warne was the No. 2 runner in three meets and the No. 3 finisher in two meets. Stearns was the team’s No. 3 runner in three meets and Kolby Brandt was the No. 3 runner in two meets and the No. 4 finisher in five meets. Benson (Coaches Award and Spirit Award), Kolby Brandt (Newcomer of the Year and Hardest Worker) and seventh grader James Albrecht (Toughest Runner) also received team honors.

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“We had some returning runners and a lot of new runners and they all improved throughout the season and supported each other. I couldn’t be more happy with that. That speaks to their work ethic,” said Richard. “We lose some seniors, who were good leaders for us this year, but we’ll return a good group. Hopefully we can crack the top five at sections and try to send at least one runner to state.”

Injuries impacted season for girls

For the second year in a row, the Panthers didn’t field a complete team in any meet this fall.

Sophomore Holly Johnson and freshman Julia Harmon returned after running in every meet last season while sophomore Mikaela Nelson competed in two meets last fall. Sophomore Amelia Berg and foreign exchange students Ludovica Bellucci (Italy) and Ariadra Borge (Spain) were out for cross country for the first time.

Johnson (13th), Harmon (19th) and Nelson (56th) competed at the Central Minnesota River Run while Harmon (17th), Johnson (24th), Berg (32nd) and Nelson (42nd) ran at the W-DC Invitational. Johnson (29th) and Harmon (39th) competed at the Bagley/Fosston Invitational, Johnson (90th), Berg (132nd) and Harmon (158th) ran at the Milaca Meet, and Harmon (12th) was the only runner at Pelican Rapids.

At the Perham Invitational, Johnson (97th), Harmon (101st) and Bellucci (144th) competed while Johnson (17th), Harmon (19th) and Borge (40th) ran at the Mid-State Conference meet.

The Panthers ended the season at the Section 8A meet were Johnson finished 64th and Harmon finished 66th.

Staples-Motley won the Mid-State title while Perham won the Section 8A title for the eighth year in a row and Hawley followed to earn the other state berth. Perham went on to win the state Class A title for the third straight year while Staples-Motley placed fifth, Pequot Lakes finished eighth and Hawley was 13th.

Johnson was named the team’s MVP and received the Coaches Award and Toughest Runner honor after being the Panthers’ top runner in six meets. Harmon was named Hardest Worker and Berg was named Newcomer of the Year and received the Spirit Award.

“I was pretty satisfied with the season. Unfortunately, most of our girls were hit with injuries this year. It was tough to see them struggle with injuries, but they gave it their all,” said Richard. “I’d like to see more girls come out next year. Some girls have shown an interest in coming out next year. With all the injuries, we couldn’t field a full team this year. Hopefully we can field a full team next year.”

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