There’s plenty of inherent pressure in trying to follow up your best season in seven years.

However, Darin Zimmerman doesn’t think there’s any pressure on his team beyond what’s already built in. Everything else is excitement for the Crookston girls’ basketball team.

“I think there’s a lot of excitement around the fact we ended the year well and we had a good offseason and put a lot of time into it,” the Pirates’ head coach said in November, before the season began. “We understand every game’s gonna be a challenge, but this group has always been very good at preparing.”

Coming off an 18-11 season and a surprising run to the Section 8AA championship, Crookston is off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2006. The Pirates are averaging 69.3 points per game and are giving up just 34.8. They’ve won all four games by double digits.

“Obviously having some expectations could add some pressure, but it takes all of us,” Zimmerman said. “I think they’ve done a nice job of just focusing on one day at a time.”

And with that, here comes the biggest day of Crookston’s season thus far.

Tuesday night, the Pirates will make the 25-minute trip down U.S. Highway 2 to play rival East Grand Forks. It was the Green Wave, you may remember, who the Pirates defeated to advance to the section final in the first place, with a 47-35 win in Crookston last March. It was the Pirates’ first win over East Grand Forks since 2015.

It would be wildly inaccurate to suggest that a win on Tuesday, by itself, could solidify Crookston as being For Real. Just as a loss to the Green Wave (2-0) would hardly mean the Pirates’ run last season was a fluke.

Certainly, though, it’s Crookston’s biggest test of the young season.

The Pirates’ first three opponents were all from Class A, while their first Class AA opponent, Warroad, went 2-25 last year. Compared to East Grand Forks, they were scrimmages.

Quality of competition of not, Crookston has done nothing to sow doubt. It’s showed off the same balanced offense as it did last year, with three different leading scorers in four games and four players — Gretchen Theis (Sr., G), Emma Borowicz (Jr., G), Hayden Winjum (So., G) and Dani Boyle (Sr., G) averaging at least nine points. The Pirates’ pressure defense has been elite, and their offense has looked crisp and unselfish, capable of scoring inside and out and playing at any tempo.

“We’re a pretty good shooting team, and we do have a lot of chemistry on the court,” Theis said in November. All of that is just as true right now.

If Crookston can prove that against East Grand Forks, who knows how high excitement might rise?

“We just know that we can do a lot of good things if we play together and play hard game in, game out,” Zimmerman said.

The Times welcomes your feedback. You can send any comments or questions to our office at (218) 281-2730, Jacob Shames (405) 496-0168 or by email at jshames@crookstontimes.com.

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