Swim team has same high expectations
Despite facing low numbers, the expectations remain high for the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team this season.
The Panthers return only 12 swimmers and divers from last year's team that went 7-0 in dual meets to extend their winning streak to 14 duals in a row and their undefeated streak to 18. Keeping that undefeated streak going is going to be tough, but head coach Todd Fritze is counting on another successful season from his team.
"With our lack of depth and varsity experience, duals will be tough," said Fritze. "But our standards never change. We're going into the season with high expectations. Having kids be successful is a constant in our program."
A solid nucleus returns from a team that repeated as Mid-State Conference champs, placed fifth at both the Section 5A True Team and Section 5A meets, and recorded the program's highest finish at the state Class A meet by placing 10th with 83 points.
Leading the Panthers this season are the three returning state qualifiers: seniors Spencer Fritze and Zach Fritze and junior Marcus Benson. Those three helped the Panthers qualify for state in six events and break four school records at the state meet.
Spencer Fritze repeated as an all-state diver by placing fifth while Benson earned all-state honors by placing fifth with a school-record time in the 100-yard backstroke. Those two also swam on the 200-yard medley relay team that earned all-state honors by placing fourth. Spencer Fritze and Benson were members of the 400 freestyle relay team that finished 10th while Spencer Fritze and Zach Fritze swam on the 200 freestyle relay team that placed 12th.
The Panthers have three key spots to fill with the loss of three state qualifiers. Zach Behrens and Matthew Benson graduated while Thomas Williams moved. Behrens and Benson were the other members of the 200 medley, 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay teams that set school records while Williams placed 16th in the 100 backstroke. Benson also placed 20th in the 100 freestyle and holds school records in the 100 freestyle, 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle.
Being counted to fill those spots are senior Seth Breitweser; junior Dominik Backmann; sophomores Ethan Hemenway, Elliot Nichols and Jacob Zinniel; and eighth graders Nicholas Graham, Jordan Odor, Cameron Runyan and Isaac Zinniel. Freshman Guiseppi Jenkins and eighth graders Matthew Lichter and Malachi Martin are out for swimming for the first time.
At last year's Mid-State Conference meet, Spencer Fritze and Zach Fritze swam on the champion 200 freestyle relay while Benson and Spencer Fritze swam on the champion 400 freestyle relay that set conference records. Benson, Zach Fritze and Breitweser also were members of the champion 200 medley relay team while Spencer Fritze claimed conference titles in the 50 freestyle and diving. Breitweser was the conference champion in the 100 breaststroke.
Earning all-conference honorable mention honors by placing second were Benson in the 200 individual medley, Zach Fritze in the 50 freestyle and Breitweser in diving while placing third were Zach Fritze in the 100 butterfly and Breitweser as a member of the 400 freestyle relay.
Helping the Panthers score 240.50 points at the Section 5A meet by placing first were Spencer Fritze in diving and Benson in the 100 backstroke. The 200 medley relay team finished second while the 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay finished third. Benson was fifth in the 200 individual medley, Zach Fritze placed ninth in the 50 freestyle and seventh in the 100 butterfly, and Breitweser finished sixth in diving and eighth in the 100 breaststroke.
Also returning after competing at last year's section meet are Nichols (20th in the 100 butterfly and 32nd in the 50 freestyle), Runyan (17th in diving) and Backmann (22nd in the 500 freestyle). Sartell-St. Stephen won the section title with 486.50 points while Alexandria (398), Melrose/Sauk Centre (313) and Fergus Falls (258) followed.
Benson led the Panthers with 405 points while Spencer Fritze, who holds school records for six dives and 11 dives, was fourth with 385 points. Breitweser (312.50), Zach Fritze (254.50), Backmann (147), Nichols (145), Isaac Zinniel (132), Jacob Zinniel (122) and Runyan (100.50) also scored at least 100 points. Hemenway (95.50), Odor (60.50) and Graham (51.50) also contributed on the varsity.
"We know we're going to have to work harder than we have in the past. We're instilling in the guys that working hard now will pay off later," said Fritze, who will be assisted by Megan Helms and Kristi Smythe. "We're going to need the younger kids to step up. The older guys seem to be driven and they're trying to trickle that down to the younger kids. I'm excited about the season. We could have glimmers of greatness."
Dec. 8 - at Fergus Falls Invitational, 11 a.m. Dec. 14 - vs. Bemidji, 6 p.m. Dec. 18 - vs. Grand Rapids, 5 p.m.
Jan. 8 - vs. Sauk Centre/Melrose, 6 p.m. Jan. 10 - vs. Perham, 6 p.m. Jan. 15 - vs. Detroit Lakes, 6 p.m. Jan. 19 - at Section 5A meet at Sartell. Jan. 22 - at Thief River Falls, 5:30 p.m. Jan. 31 - at Bemidji, 6 p.m.
Feb. 2 - Park Rapids Invitational, 3:30 p.m. Feb. 8 - Mid-State Conference meet at Detroit Lakes, 3:30 p.m. Feb. 22-23 - Section 5A meet at Sartell.