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Veteran group returns to lead Panthers in pool

A veteran group returns to lead the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team this season. With 21 swimmers and divers returning from a team that went 3-3-1 in dual meets, won the Mid-State Conference title and qualified four individuals in five ...

A veteran group returns to lead the Park Rapids boys swimming and diving team this season.

With 21 swimmers and divers returning from a team that went 3-3-1 in dual meets, won the Mid-State Conference title and qualified four individuals in five events for the state Class A meet, head coach Todd Fritze is counting on another successful season.

"This group is pretty hungry," said Fritze. "Hopefully we can start off the season where we left off last year."

Three state qualifiers return, including junior Matthew Benson and sophomore Spencer Fritze. Benson placed 12th in the 500-yard freestyle while Fritze placed 13th in diving as the Panthers scored 9 points at the state meet. Junior Casimir Simonson also returns after joining Benson and Fritze on the 200 medley relay team that placed 20th at state. In addition, Fritze took 26th in the 50 freestyle while Benson was disqualified after qualifying for state in the 200 freestyle.

Also returning with varsity experience are seniors Jack Bateman, Kaleb Carlson, Sam Eystad, Jack Walsh, Tim Walsh and Steven Wattenhofer; juniors Zach Behrens, Samuel Huot and James Utke; sophomores Seth Breitweser and Zach Fritze; freshmen Dominik Backmann, Marcus Benson, Kamryn Etter and Dan Walsh; and eighth graders Ethan Hemenway, Thomas Williams and Jacob Zinniel.

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That group led the Panthers to the conference title by winning 11 events. Simonson, Spencer Fritze and Matthew Benson swam on the winning 200 medley relay team; Spencer Fritze, Behrens and Matthew Benson swam on the winning 200 freestyle relay; and Behrens, Eystad, Bateman and Simonson swam on the winning 400 freestyle relay. Also taking first were Matthew Benson in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle; Behrens in the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly; Spencer Fritze in the 50 freestyle and diving; Simonson in the 100 backstroke; and Carlson in the 100 breaststroke.

Earning all-conference honorable mention honors by taking second were Simonson in the 200 individual medley, Huot in the 100 butterfly and Marcus Benson in the 100 backstroke while Tim Walsh (in the 100 backstroke) and the 200 medley relay team of Marcus Benson, Carlson, Huot and Zach Fritze also earned all-conference honorable mention honors by placing third.

At the Section 5A meet, the 200 medley relay team placed fifth with a state-qualifying time, Matthew Benson won the 500 freestyle and took third in the 200 freestyle to advance, and Spencer Fritze was fourth in diving and fifth in the 50 freestyle to advance with a state-qualifying time.

Simonson finished fourth in the 100 backstroke while Spencer Fritze, Eystad and Matthew Benson finished sixth in the 200 freestyle relay and Behrens, Eystad, Bateman and Simonson took sixth in the 400 freestyle relay.

Others who swam in the section consolation finals were Behrens (11th) and Simonson (12th) in the 200 individual medley; Breitweser in diving (12th); Huot (11th) and Behrens (16th) in the 100 butterfly; Marcus Benson in the 500 freestyle (12th); Tim Walsh (15th) and Marcus Benson (16th) in the 100 backstroke; and Carlson in the 100 breaststroke (10th).

Also back after competing at the section meet are Jack Walsh (25th in the 200 freestyle and 25th in the 500 freestyle), Huot (22nd in the 200 individual medley), Utke (23rd in the 200 individual medley and 26th in the 100 butterfly), Bateman (20th in the 50 freestyle and 21st in the 100 freestyle), Zach Fritze (22nd in the 50 freestyle), Dan Walsh (tie for 17th in diving), Eystad (22nd in the 100 freestyle), Tim Walsh (25th in the 100 freestyle) and Breitweser (21st in the 100 breaststroke).

Matthew Benson led the team with 444 points and broke school records in the 200 freestyle (1:49.35) and 500 freestyle (4:58.75) while moving up to No. 10 in the 200 individual medley and No. 10 in the 100 butterfly in program history.

Spencer Fritze was named the Panthers' MVP after breaking his own school records for six dives (262.15 points) and 11 dives (429.30 points). Fritze was second in points with 436.50 and is No. 5 in school history in the 50 freestyle.

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Simonson followed in third place with 358.25 points and moved up to the No. 2 spot in the 100 backstroke while Behrens was fifth with 334.50 points and is No. 8 in school history in the 200 individual medley.

Marcus Benson (253.25), Eystad (244), Carlson (210.50) and Huot (208.50) finished in the top 10 in points while Bateman (191), Utke (180.50), Breitweser (172), Zach Fritze (158), Tim Walsh (156), Jack Walsh (128.50), Williams (117) and Dan Walsh (106) scored at least 100 points. Breitweser (No. 8 for six dives and No. 9 for 11 dives), Marcus Benson (No. 10 in the 500 freestyle) and Dan Walsh (No. 10 for 11 dives) moved up the career list in their best events.

Also scoring points on varsity last season were Backmann (57), Zinniel (31), Wattenhofer (24.50), Etter (17.50) and Hemenway (6).

The Panthers have two key spots to fill with the graduation of Hunter Utke and Jordan Raidt. Utke rounded out the 200 medley relay team that broke the school record with a 1:43.91 and finished fourth on the team with 345 points while Raidt contributed 123.50 points.

Looking to provide depth are seniors Jack Christenson and Connor Shaw; juniors Matthew Bruce and Nicholas Antelo; freshman Daniel Neubauer; eighth grader Elliot Nichols; and seventh grader Jessup Cempa.

Last season, the Panthers placed fifth at the Section 5A True Team meet with 1,156 points, won the conference title with 527 points and finished sixth at the Section 5A meet with 208 points. Sartell-St. Stephen won the section title with 494 points while Alexandria (341), Fergus Falls (292), Melrose/Sauk Centre (282) and Bemidji (261) also finished ahead of Park Rapids.

Fritze is hoping his team can repeat as conference champs, at least duplicate last year's showings in the section team standings, and send at least one relay team and several individuals to the state meet.

"It's early in the season, so we're still trying to figure things out. The guys are working pretty hard. We've got good numbers, so our depth will be pretty good. We need guys to step up, but we've got plenty of options. We have a lot of guys who are multi-stroke swimmers, so we can move them around depending on what we need," said Fritze, who will be assisted by Carly Helfrich and Kristi Smythe. "Our expectations are pretty high. I'm expecting good things. It should be an exciting year."

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