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Panthers enjoy record-setting section swim meet

Zach Behrens swam the butterfly leg on Park Rapids' state-qualifying 200-yard medley relay team during the finals of Saturday's Section 5A boys swimming and diving meet at Alexandria. Behrens also swam on the Panthers' state-qualifying 200-yard freestyle and 400-yard freestyle relay teams. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Over the last three seasons, Todd Fritze said he was happy with the performance of the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team at the Section 5A meet. Happy, but not satisfied.

The Panthers' head coach had to be satisfied with this year's effort.

Park Rapids once again peaked at the Section 5A meet. Three years ago, the Panthers sent one diver and two swimmers to the state Class A meet. Two seasons ago, the Panthers advanced one diver, three swimmers and one relay team to state. Last season, the Panthers qualified one diver, three swimmers and two relay teams for state.

In an effort to continue that trend, Fritze convinced some of his swimmers to give up individual events and focus on qualifying all three relays for state. That strategy paid off as Park Rapids advanced in all three relays while sending one diver and three swimmers in two other events to the Class A meet. The Panthers also broke five school records in the process.

Sophomore Marcus Benson, junior Spencer Fritze, senior Zach Behrens and senior Matthew Benson opened Saturday's Section 5A finals at Alexandria with a runner-up finish in the 200-yard medley relay in 1:39.52. That broke the school record of 1:42.10 set by Casimir Simonson, Fritze, Behrens and Benson last season.

Fritze returned to state in diving by claiming the section title with 423.85 points before Matthew Benson advanced in the 100 freestyle with a state-qualifying time of 49.48 for fifth place.

Spencer Fritze, junior Zach Fritze, Behrens and Matthew Benson qualified in the 200 freestyle relay with a 1:30.92 to finish third and top the cut time. That time also broke the school record of 1:31.80 clocked by Spencer Fritze, Behrens, Sam Eystad and Matthew Benson last season.

Marcus Benson returned to state as the section champion in the 100 backstroke with a school-record time of 54.09 while freshman Thomas Williams earned his first state trip by tying for fourth place with a state-qualifying time of 56.68. Marcus Benson set the school record with a 54.94 last season.

Park Rapids ended the meet by advancing in the 400 freestyle relay as Matthew Benson, Behrens, Marcus Benson and Spencer Fritze teamed for a state-cut and school-record time of 3:21.33 to finish third. The previous school record of 3:21.82 was held by Clay Eberhardt, Luke Berglund, Josh Winter and Jonah Winter since 2002. Matthew Benson led off with a 49.32 during preliminaries and led off with a 49.07 in the finals to set a school record in the 100 freestyle. Connor Smythe held the old school record of 49.57 set in 2014.

Those efforts led the Panthers to fifth place in the team standings with 240.50 points. Sartell-St. Stephen topped the 10-team field with 486.50 points.

Park Rapids will be looking to advance to Saturday's finals in all six events when the state Class A meet begins Thursday with diving and Friday with the swimming preliminaries at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

"Overall, this was probably one of the best section meets we've ever had. We had 100 percent season bests on Friday and had pretty much lifetime bests in everything," said Fritze. "We'll try and get them focused and mentally dialed in to perform at even a higher level at state. Our goal is to maintain or get a little faster. If we do that, good things will happen. I'm happy with what we've accomplished, but I'm shot satisfied yet. We still want to do some stuff down there."

Prelims set tone

Solid performances during Friday's preliminaries set the tone for the Panthers.

Marcus Benson, Spencer Fritze, Behrens and Matthew Benson dropped their seed time of 1:44.25 to 1:41.20 to finish second and easily top the state-cut time of 1:43.16 and the school record.

After Dominik Backmann failed to advance to the finals in the 200 freestyle by placing 24th with a season-best 2:20.05, Marcus Benson earned a spot in the finals of the 200 individual medley by placing fourth with a season-best 2:08.80. Sam Huot missed advancing by placing 18th with a season-best 2:28.36.

Zach Fritze clocked a season-best 23.67 to advance to the consolation finals in the 50 freestyle while Dan Walsh (19th in 25.16) and Elliott Nichols (32nd in 26.81) failed to qualify despite clocking season bests.

Spencer Fritze led the field in diving with 200.05 points after the first five dives and was in first after the next three dives with 303.65 points after the semifinals. Seth Breitweser was sixth after the first round with 153.85 points and seventh after the semifinals with 218.95 points. Cameron Runyan failed to advance to the finals after placing 17th with 149.35 points while Jessup Cempa was 21st after the first round with 92.00 points in failing to reach the semifinals.

In the 100 butterfly, Behrens was fifth with a 56.56 and Zach Fritze was eighth with a 58.45 as both advanced to the finals with season-best times. Nichols finished 20th in 1:05.11 and Huot was 24th in 1:06.23 as both missed out on the finals despite season bests.

Matthew Benson clocked a season best of 49.69 in the 100 freestyle to finish fourth while Dan Walsh finished 21st with a 58.44, which was also a season best.

Williams earned a spot in the consolation finals in the 500 freestyle with his best time of the season of 5:19.56 while Backmann took 22nd in 6:26.53, which was also his best time of the season.

Spencer Fritze, Zach Fritze, Behrens and Matthew Benson put themselves in perfect position to qualify for state in the 200 freestyle relay by placing third with a cut time and school-record time of 1:30.92. That was below their seed time of 1:32.83 and below the cut time of 1:31.18.

The Panthers led the pack in the 100 backstroke as Marcus Benson clocked a winning time of 55.02 to top his seed time of 57.77 and Williams followed by cutting his seed time of 59.61 to 56.81. Both met the state-qualifying time of 56.87.

After Breitweser advanced to the finals of the 100 breaststroke by topping his seed time of 1:07.15 with a 1:06.96 to finish eighth, Matthew Benson, Behrens, Marcus Benson and Spencer Fritze teamed for a 3:22.18 to take third in the 400 freestyle relay. That time was well ahead of their seed time of 3:27.72 and topped the state-cut time of 3:23.50.

Panthers deliver

After everyone posted season bests during Friday's preliminaries, the Panthers excelled during Saturday's finals with 11 season-best efforts.

Marcus Benson (with a 25.59 split in the backstroke), Spencer Fritze (with a 27.30 split in the breaststroke), Behrens (with a 24.61 split in the butterfly) and Matthew Benson (with a 22.02 split in the freestyle) stayed in second place with a 1:39.52 for 34 points. Alexandria took first with a 1:38.05, which broke the section record of 1:39.53 set by Sartell last season.

Marcus Benson dropped his time to 2:06.82 for fifth place in the 200 individual medley to add 14 points to Park Rapids' team total before Zach Fritze placed ninth in the 50 freestyle with a 23.59 to score 9 points.

Spencer Fritze maintained the lead in diving, finishing with 423.85 points while Breitweser moved up to sixth place with 331.25 points as the Panthers scored 33 points in that event. Spencer Fritze was named Section 5A Diver of the Year while Kristi Smythe was named Section 5A Diving Coach of the Year.

Park Rapids scored 26 points in the 100 butterfly behind Behrens' fifth-place time of 56.43 and Zach Fritze's seventh-place time of 57.38.

Matthew Benson cut his time to 49.48 to finish fifth in the 100 freestyle and qualify for state by topping the state-cut time of 49.52. That added 14 points to the Panthers' team total.

Williams placed 16th in the 500 freestyle with a 5:46.50 for 1 point in a warm-up for the 100 backstroke before Spencer Fritze (22.76), Zach Fritze (23.13), Behrens (22.78) and Matthew Benson (21.98) advanced to state with a 1:30.65 for third place. That met the state-qualifying time of 1:31.18 and added 32 points to the team score.

In the 100 backstroke, the Panthers scored 34.50 points as Marcus Benson led the field with a winning time of 54.09 and Williams tied for fourth place with a 56.68. Both times met the cut time of 56.87.

Breitweser stayed in eighth place in the 100 breaststroke with a 1:06.96 for 11 points.

The Panthers scored their final 32 points in the 400 freestyle relay as Matthew Benson (49.07), Behrens (50.70), Marcus Benson (51.04) and Spencer Fritze (50.52) teamed for a 3:21.33. That third-place time was ahead of the cut time of 3:23.50 as the Panthers capped off the meet with their fifth school record.

"We swam great the first day and even better the second day," said Fritze. "I told the guys that it was great we swam lights out on Friday, but we have to do it again and be faster on Saturday. Everyone was dialed in and we went faster. I'm really proud of the guys."

Team scores: Sartell-St. Stephen 486.50, Alexandria 398, Melrose/Sauk Centre 313, Fergus Falls 258, Park Rapids 240.50, Bemidji 182, Detroit Lakes 154, Thief River Falls 66, Perham/New York Mills 58, Morris Area 42.

Individual results

200 medley relay: 1, Alexandria, 1:38.05. 2, Park Rapids (Mar. Benson, S. Fritze, Behrens, Mat. Benson), 1:39.52. 3, Sartell, 1:39.95. 4, Fergus Falls, 1:41.81.

200 freestyle: 1, P. Chromey, A, 1:44.73. 2, Larson, SSS, 1:48.48. 3, Olson, A, 1:50.82.

200 individual medley: 1, Sathre, SSS, 1:59.57. 2, Welle, A, 2:02.00. 3, Fleischhacker, MSC, 2:05.51. 4, Dummer, A, 2:06.29. 5, Mar. Benson, PR, 2:06.82. 18, Huot, PR, 2:28.36.

50 freestyle: 1, Baas, A, 21.90. 2, Plemel, SSS, 22.21. 3, VanSurksum, SSS, 22.39. 9, Z. Fritze, PR, 23.59. 19, Walsh, PR, 25.16. 32, Nichols, PR, 26.81.

Diving: 1, S. Fritze, PR, 423.85 points. 2, Neubauer, FF, 423.05. 3, Munter, B, 409.65. 4, Erlandson, FF, 389.25. 6, Breitweser, PR, 331.25. 17, Runyan, PR, 149.35. 21, Cempa, PR, 92.00.

100 butterfly: 1, N. Chromey, A, 54.08. 2, Pajari, FF, 55.19. 3, Jesperson, SSS, 55.99. 5, Behrens, PR, 56.41. 7, Z. Fritze, PR, 57.38. 20, Nichols, PR, 1:05.11. 24, Huot, PR, 1:06.23.

100 freestyle: 1, P. Chromey, A, 47.53. 2, Plemel, SSS, 48.44. 3, VanSurksum, SSS, 49.01. 4, Larson, SSS, 49.33. 5, Mat. Benson, PR, 49.48. 21, Walsh, PR, 58.44.

500 freestyle: 1, Van Beck, MSC, 5:01.42. 2, Hendricks, B, 5:02.76. 3, Olson, A, 5:06.95. 16, Williams, PR, 5:46.50. 22, Backmann, PR, 6:26.53.

200 freestyle relay: 1, Alexandria, 1:27.57. 2, Sartell, 1:28.16. 3, Park Rapids (S. Fritze, Z. Fritze, Behrens, Mat. Benson), 1:30.65.

100 backstroke: 1, Mar. Benson, PR, 54.09. 2, Prody, FF, 55.99. 3, Dummer, A, 56.37. 4 (tie), Williams, PR, and Bjork, SSS, 56.68.

100 breaststroke: 1, N. Chromey, A, 57.59. 2, Sathre, SSS, 1:00.15. 3, Fleischhacker, MSC, 1:01.72. 4, Welle, A, 1:03.28. 5, Nies, SSS, 1:03.54. 8, Breitweser, PR, 1:06.96.

400 freestyle relay: 1, Alexandria, 3:14.19. 2, Sartell, 3:16.42. 3, Park Rapids (Mat. Benson, Behrens, Mar. Benson, S. Fritze), 3:21.33.