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Runners look to improve as season progresses

Even though head coach Kerry Johnson would like to see more numbers, the Park Rapids boys and girls cross-country teams are in a better situation than a year ago.

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Leading the Park Rapids cross-country teams this fall will be seniors (from left) Ashton Clark, Seth Breitweser, Gabe Bagstad and Whitney Steffel. Submitted photo

Even though head coach Kerry Johnson would like to see more numbers, the Park Rapids boys and girls cross-country teams are in a better situation than a year ago.

Entering last season, the Panthers had only three boys and three girls returning who competed in the Section 8A meet in 2016. Entering this season, the Panthers return five boys and three girls who competed at the 2017 section meet.

"We are a small group this year, but it's such a great bunch of student/athletes. It's easy to focus on the size of the team and want more runners, but I'm so happy with the runners who are on the team," said Johnson, who had 10 boys and three girls report for the first two weeks of practice. "As it goes every year, some ran a great deal and some didn't run at all. That's one of the biggest challenges as a coach is to create workouts that benefit so many different conditioning levels. Pushing a runner out of his/her comfort zone is different for just about every single one of them. A couple of my goals for these runners are to stay healthy and to get after it each and every practice. They are a hard-working bunch and I know they will motivate each other to work hard and to compete."

Boys look to move up

A year ago, the Panthers finished seventh at the Mid-State Conference meet and 11th out of 24 teams at the section meet.

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With five veterans returning, Johnson expects the Park Rapids boys to improve on those showings.

Being counted on to lead the Panthers again this season are seniors Seth Breitweser, Gabe Bagstad and Ashton Clark; junior Keegan Moses; and freshman Sam Warne. Moses, Breitweser and Warne ran in all nine varsity meets last season. Breitweser will serve as this year's captain.

Moses was Park Rapids' top runner at the conference meet (placing 16th) and section meet (placing 27th) while Breitweser followed by placing 26th at the conference meet and 60th at the section meet. Clark (38th), Warne (39th) and Bagstad (42nd) rounded out the Panthers' team that compiled 153 points at the Mid-State meet while Warne (82nd), Bagstad (119th) and Clark (121st) rounded out the section team that finished with 279 points. Detroit Lakes won the conference title with 32 points while Perham captured the section title for the 12th year in a row with 48 points. Ada-Borup/Norman County West finished second with 91 points to claim the other state berth. Perham, which entered the state Class A meet as the No. 1-rated team, ended up winning the section title.

Looking to fill one of the other varsity spots left by the graduation of Will Pickar (who was the No. 3 runner at the conference meet by placing 34th and the No. 2 runner at the section meet by placing 55th) will be junior Marcus Benson, sophomores Skylar Hagen and Owen Wagner, and eighth graders Pierce DeBlieck and Blaine Hensel.

"I would love to have seven guys train like crazy during the summer, but that doesn't always happen. I think as the season goes on, the guys will get better and better," said Johnson. ""I think individually the boys have some great potential. I also feel that as the season progresses, some of the boys who didn't run as much will improve enough to create a pretty competitive team."

Girls focus on individual success

The Park Rapids girls team enters this season in a similar situation to a year ago.

Last season, Johnson wasn't sure if the Panthers would field a complete team of five runners. Park Rapids ended up fielding a complete team in seven meets.

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Entering this season, the Panthers will feature only a three-runner squad of senior Whitney Steffel, freshman Holly Johnson and eighth grader Julia Harmon. All three return after helping the Panthers place sixth at the Mid-State meet and 13th at the section meet. Steffel will serve as team captain.

At the conference meet, Steffel finished eighth and Johnson placed ninth to earn all-conference honors. Harmon took 43rd in helping the Panthers compile 119 points. Detroit Lakes won the conference title with 71 points.

Park Rapids compiled 279 points at the section meet with Steffel placing 36th, Johnson finishing 48th and Harmon taking 93rd. Perham captured the section title for the sixth year in a row with 37 points and United North Central followed with 102 points to earn the two state berths. Perham, which was rated No. 1 entering the state meet, ended up winning the Class A title.

Johnson is looking for more runners to join so the Panthers can field a five-runner team by the end of the season. Park Rapids had six runners a year ago, but Haley Pickar (who earned all-conference honorable mention honors by placing 15th and was the team's No. 3 runner by placing 29th at the section meet) moved while Alex Kirlin (who placed 44th at the conference meet and 79th at the section meet) and Karen Valencia (who placed 45th at the conference meet and 119th at the section meet) graduated.

"We really need more girls to join us, but with many not involved in anything and having three other terrific girls sports in the fall, we're having a hard time filling out the team," said Johnson. "The three runners I do have right now are such hard workers and I think they'll do some great things this season."

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