Under normal circumstances, I'd be looking ahead. I'd be working on the large, annual spring sports preview the Times puts out every April, brainstorming feature ideas and trying to build rapport with coaches and players.
But as of today, the spring sports preview might not be happening, because, well, spring sports might not be happening.
I'll have more to say about the latest developments when they happen. But in times this unprecedented, maybe a distraction or two is in order, in the form of looking back — and ahead, a little bit, too.
1. I lied. This doesn't have anything at all to do with Crookston, or looking back. But for the last 15 or so hours I've been trying to remind myself what team Tom Brady plays for. It's taken me multiple reminders because Tom Brady does not play for the New England Patriots anymore. He plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It will never, ever be normal to see the greatest quarterback of all time tossing passes in those hideous red and gray alarm-clock uniforms. (While going 9-7, probably.)
2. Sorry, had to get that out of the way first. For Crookston girls' basketball, 2019-20 was its best season in seven years, going by wins and losses — and it's still hard to not look at it with a sense of "what-if". The Pirates were world-beaters during a 15-2 start, and even after losing Emma Borowicz and Gretchen Theis in late January, held it together, scrapping to a 21-7 record and losing by just five points to eventual section champs Pelican Rapids in the playoffs. (Theis returned for the stretch run, Borowicz was ruled out for the season with a torn ACL.)
3. The change was clear to see. With Borowicz and Theis absent, Crookston averaged just 51 points in its last 11 games after averaging close to 65 prior. The Pirates went from thoroughbreds to workhorses overnight, and despite a valiant effort, it's impossible to resist wondering what a few extra Borowicz or Theis baskets would have done against a Hawley or a Roseau. Maybe Crookston would have avoided playing an unbeaten Pelican Rapids in the quarterfinals?
4. The Pirates' 2018-19 run was memorable, but this year's team was better. 2020-21 might continue that trend. The wild card is Borowicz, as a torn ACL is one of the most devastating injuries an athlete can suffer, but assuming a typical timeframe of recovery, she'll be back for her senior season. Hayden Winjum and Halle Winjum were Crookston's leading and third-leading scorers — as a sophomore and eighth-grader, respectively. While Theis, Kasey Cwikla and Dani Boyle will be tough to replace, the Pirates have a core that will allow them to contend for a Section 8AA title once again.
5. Speaking of teams that can contend for a section title: Crookston wrestling sent five wrestlers to state this year, its most since 2011 — and all of them will be back next year. In fact, the Pirates are returning the entire lineup that competed in the section team and individual finals. Carter Coauette, Ethan Bowman, Zach Brown, Nolan Dans, Cameron Weiland, Braxton Volker and Hunter Knutson made up an imposing early-weight lineup while Ethan Boll was stellar at 182 pounds. Six of them will be either freshmen or sophomores next season, meaning the sky's the limit.
6. The future's bright for Crookston girls' hockey, too. It's hard to call the Pirates section title contenders when Warroad exists, but this is a team with, again, its entire core returning and with potential for massive improvement. If there was an area Crookston was decidedly behind its opponents, it would probably be strength and physicality — which is, more or less, the nature of a very young team. If the Pirates manage to take that leap, a winning record is very much in the cards.
7. If nothing else, Crookston boys' hockey has a superstar. As just a freshman, Jack Doda scored 22 goals and 14 assists, ranking in the Top 10 in Section 8A. The trick for the Pirates will be finding depth around him, as they graduated eight seniors this season. That might not portend an improvement next year, but you can strongly argue that Crookston was actually much better than its 5-22 record suggested — its early schedule was marked by close losses against tough competition, and four of its wins came in February with a healthy roster.
8. In contrast to boys' hockey, Crookston boys' basketball is tasked with replacing a graduated superstar in Caden Osborn, its all-time leading rebounder, instead of building around one. For the Pirates, the focus shifts to the backcourt, where an experienced trio of Carter Bruggeman, Easton Tangquist and Jack Garmen returns. It's a group that showed the ability to score points, but now they'll have to do it without Osborn.
9. At the college level, 2020-21 will be one of the most interesting seasons in Minnesota Crookston men's basketball history. The storylines are obvious and they mostly all revolve around one player. How do the Golden Eagles keep building the program after the graduation of Harrison Cleary, the NSIC's all-time leading scorer?
10. This is a team that might be written off by many around the conference, but I wouldn't be quite as quick to do so. When UMC wasn't at its best this season, it often came as a result of too much reliance on Cleary. When UMC was at its best, it was because it found a middle ground between Cleary's gifts and that of everyone else's. They'll have to do something similar next season — finding one or two players who can get buckets while generally sharing the wealth. The key will be discovering if players who existed in Cleary's shadow — Brian Sitzmann, Ibu Jassey Demba, Tyrese Shines — have an extra gear.
11. If I had to predict which team in this article will make the biggest improvement, record-wise, next season, it'd be Minnesota Crookston women's basketball. It's not all that close. The Golden Eagles went 5-22 last season, but will return their top eight scorers — seven of which were underclassmen. It was a season of growing pains, but UMC's talent was apparent for stretches, and an offseason of growth might be what it takes to extend those stretches.
12. Best game of the winter season: Roseau 61, Crookston 60 on Jan. 28. The second game between the recent Section 8AA rivals lived up to the hype and then some. Katie Borowicz was jaw-dropping, scoring 40 points for the Rams, while Emma Borowicz scored 21 points after halftime. The Pirates had an answer for everything Roseau threw, coming back from a 10-point deficit to take the lead in the final minute. It truly could have gone either way — but Katie Borowicz got her own rebound and scored the game-winning basket with under 15 seconds left.
13. Best individual performance: Cleary's 52 points against Wayne State on Dec. 14, coming on 12-of-27 shooting, 7-of-13 from deep and 21-for-23 from the free throw line. It was a career-high and UMC program record, and couldn't have been more needed, as the Golden Eagles bounced back from two 30-plus point losses to win 92-78.
14. Cutting this short because deadline is in 10 minutes.
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