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First meet of season means more for Pirates this year

Jacob Shames
Crookston Times
Sophomore Mackenzie Aamoth won the 100-meter butterfly on Tuesday in Crookston's season-opening meet against Fosston-Bagley.

The beauty of swimming, Crookston girls' swimming coach Marley Melbye says, is that it's easier to look at the small successes.

Regardless of place, every athlete records a time. Then they can go out and better it at the next meet. Swimmers, much more so than most other athletes, compete against themselves.

The Pirates have just 11 swimmers on their roster for the 2020 season. For the most part, small successes are the only ones attainable to them. Having fun. Competing. Shaving seconds off their times.

But that's fine with them. It's been that way for years. Being in the pool at all, especially this year, is reward enough.

Sophomore Mackenzie Aamoth, one of this year's captains, remembers when Crookston had 13 swimmers her seventh-grade year. The last two years, that number's dropped to eight — any less than that, and the program would have been cut entirely.

This summer, Melbye took stock of her roster. She knew that she had seven for sure.

"It was down to the wire," she said Tuesday.

"I was scared that the team was gonna get cut," Aamoth said. "And then we weren't sure if we were going to have any sports at all."

In addition to this existential dread, the Pirates had to brave doubts that every swimming program in the state faced: whether or not COVID-19 would allow them to compete this fall. But when the decision came down on Aug. 4 that swimming was good to go, it wasn't only a sign of relief, but a needed boost.

With volleyball one of two sports being moved to the spring, a number of athletes began looking for new temporary homes. That included Libby Salentine, a sophomore, who took to the pool.

"She's been a great addition to our team," Melbye said. "A lot of vocalness there and a lot of hard work and dedication, and she comes with a good attitude and a willingness to work."

Along with Salentine, the Pirates were able to recruite three seventh-graders: Chloe Boll and Lucy Smith — who are playing tennis at the same time — and Mya Bower. For at least another year, Crookston swimming would survive.

"It did bring some anxiety to the girls," Melbye said. "It did bring some stress, because they do love this sport. The threat of it not being here was kind of scary."

Melbye considers Aamoth, Claire Oman, Madison Hoiland and Victoria Proulx to be the Pirates' veterans. That's even more true in a relative sense. Including the four newcomers, and returners Elizabeth Helgeson, Grace Meiner and Naomi Olson, a majority of the team has under two years of experience.

This has changed the complexion of practice, and in turn, what Melbye can expect at meets. "As a team as a whole, we know that this is a growing year," she said. Practices are slower now, so that Melbye can focus on teaching technique and stroke progression.

When meets come around, Crookston's lack of numbers becomes apparent. Losses — like Tuesday's 104-58 defeat to Fosston-Bagley at home — are to be taken almost for granted. 

But having the odds stacked so heavily against you makes the small successes even easier to see.

Hoiland won the 100-meter breaststroke with a time a couple seconds slower than last season, but still "right where she should be" according to her coach. Oman had a "fantastic" swim in the 400-meter freestyle. The Pirates did time trials in practice on Monday, and against Fosston-Bagley, Olson cut three seconds off her time, while Boll cut 10.

"A big success that we had today was just our team coming together, bringing in new different attitudes, new different personalities," Melbye said. "These girls are really coming together to push each other."

On Tuesday, after so long away and so many doubts about whether she'd be able to come back, Aamoth felt "strange" being in the pool.

But when asked for her biggest takeaways from her first meet, she called back not to any specifics about her win in the 100-meter butterfly, but to the small successes that have made up her career.

"Working hard over the years, the time to get to where (I am) now," she said. "Seventh grade, I was always last."

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

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