Area football, volleyball teams to start seasons this week
On Sept. 21, the Minnesota State High School League delivered the news schools across the state had been hoping for: football and volleyball were back.
The MSHSL had previously postponed the football and volleyball seasons to next spring due to COVID-19 concerns, but reneged on its decision three weeks ago, enabling teams to start playing Oct. 8 for volleyball and Oct. 9 for football (with a few notable exceptions).
Here's a look at the teams in Polk County that are set to get their seasons underway this week.
The Pirates' season has actually started already, due to there being 17 teams in their district. This necessitated a bye week — and, subsequently, a "Zero Week" game before the season — for a number of teams, of which Crookston was one.
In its Zero Week game last Saturday, Crookston beat Roseau, 14-10, at home. The Pirates are looking to improve on their 3-6 record from last season, in which they started out 0-4, won three out of their final four regular-season games, and lost at Warroad, 18-8, in the Section 8AA playoffs. They averaged 12.1 points and allowed 24.0 points per game.
Crookston's schedule consists of the same teams it consisted of in 2019, with the exception of Breckenridge and East Grand Forks. The Pirates host Ottertail Central and Pillager, and travel to West Central Area, Hawley and defending Section 8AA champion Barnesville.
East Grand Forks
The Green Wave went 3-6 last season and 2-4 in Section 8AAA play, losing in the first round of the playoffs to Fergus Falls, 25-20. They averaged 22.4 points per game, ranking fourth in the section, but their defense was the third-worst, allowing 33.3 points on average.
East Grand Forks has a chance to avenge their season-ending defeat right out of the gates when it travels to Fergus Falls Friday, Oct. 9.
Last season was the Falcons' first playing 9-man football after moving down from Section 8A. They found success immediately, going 9-2. However, unbeaten Win-E-Mac spoiled Fertile-Beltrami's run with a 30-18 win at the Fargodome in the Section championship game.
The Falcons scored 28.7 points per game last season, but their defense was even better, ranking first in Section 6 by allowing just 9.5 points per contest. They open the season at home against Badger/Greenbush-Middle River Friday.
The Greyhounds were winless in 2019 and were shut out on three occasions, the last of which came against Polk County West in the Section 8A first round. But they won't get a chance to improve this season.
Fosston is not playing a varsity schedule this season. Per the Grand Forks Herald, this is due to lack of numbers — the same thing that plagued the Greyhounds a year ago. They will, however, play a JV schedule, which began last Thursday against Lake Park-Audubon.
Polk County West
Polk County West, a co-op between Climax-Fisher and Sacred Heart, is going into its seventh year of existence, and hopes that year seven indeed proves lucky for them.
The Thunder have made it to the Section 8A championship game in four of the last five seasons, losing every time — to Mahnomen/Waubun in 2015, 2016 and 2018, and to Ada-Borup last year.
The Thunder went 8-3 during last season's run, averaging 31.6 points and giving up just 12.1 — tops in the section. They'll open their season at home Friday against New York Mills.
2019 was a dream season for the Patriots, who steamrolled through Section 6A during an 8-0 regular season while rising as high as No. 5 in the 9-man rankings. They continued their roll in the playoffs, blasting their first two opponents by a combined score of 105-6 before beating Fertile-Beltrami to punch their ticket to state.
Once there, Win-E-Mac took down Section 8 champ Warren-Alvarado-Oslo, 48-6, before eventual state champs Mountain Lake Area beat them 45-6 in the semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
The Patriots, who averaged 31.5 points and allowed 9.8 per game last season, open their season Newfolden on Friday against Northern Freeze. They begin their section title defense against Nevis Thursday, Oct. 15.
The Pirates will be hoping for a rebound season after going just 2-21 in 2019. They won their opening match against Bagley, but struggled the rest of the way, managing just 10 set wins and a 2-11 mark in section play in their first season in Section 8A.
They'll be looking to re-find the success they had in 2018, when they went 12-14 and beat Thief River Falls in the first round of the Section 8AA playoffs for their first postseason win in almost a decade.
Crookston has a challenging initial stretch ahead of it: Thursday, it hosts last year's section runner-up, Ada-Borup, as the first of four games in six days to open the season. Another challenging stretch comes from Oct. 29 to Nov. 16, during which the Pirates will play five road games without a home game — all in all, they'll go 30 days between home dates.
Climax-Fisher looks to continue its upward momentum in 2020. After spending two years towards the bottom of Section 8A West, winning just seven games combined, the Knights went 10-14 and an even 9-9 in section play. However, they lost in the first round of the playoffs to Warren-Alvarado-Oslo.
This season, Climax-Fisher opens up play with a home showdown Thursday against Win-E-Mac. It has four straight road games towards the end of the season as well.
East Grand Forks
Last season was the Green Wave's best in the last three years, but they still finished just 7-20 and 2-7 in Section 8AA. They did, however, bounce back from a 1-11 start to finish 6-8 down the stretch of the regular season before a first-round playoff defeat at Roseau.
East Grand Forks begins its season Saturday, Oct. 10 at Park Rapids. It will play its last five games of the season at home, including a rivalry game against Crookston on Nov. 12.
The Falcons have historically been among the more successful programs in Section 8A, having won a combined 76 games over the last four seasons. 2019 was actually their least-successful, record-wise, during that span, as they went 17-11. They did, though, win their first-round game in the section tournament before being eliminated by powerhouse Ada-Borup.
Fertile-Beltrami begins its season Thursday, at home against Red Lake Falls.
The Greyhounds made the semifinals of the Section 8A Tournament in 10 of 11 seasons between 2008 and 2018. They weren't able to break through, though, until last season, when they stormed through the section playoffs on their way to their first state tournament berth since 2004.
Fosston swept all four section tournament matches, including beating Ada-Borup in the championship game to thwart the Cougars' bid to going to state for a third year in a row.
Once in Minneapolis, the Greyhounds won their first match over Mounds Park Academy before falling to eventual champ Minneota in the semifinals and Medford in the consolation. They ended their season with a 29-8 record, and they'll look to live up to 2019 starting with Thursday's season opener at Norman County East/Ulen-Hitterdal.
The Eagles have been a force in Section 8A for years, having gone a combined 101-18 over the last four seasons. In 2018, they fell in the section title game to Ada-Borup in five sets, and their bid to get back there in 2019 was stifled thanks to an upset loss to Badger/Greenbush-Middle River in the section quarterfinals.
Sacred Heart went 27-5 last season, including a 16-game winning streak that was snapped with the loss to the Gators. The Eagles will look to replicate that success beginning Thursday, when Kittson County Central comes to East Grand Forks.
Last season, the Patriots finished seventh out of 13 teams in Section 8A's East Division, finishing with a record of 9-19 and 5-11 in section play. Their postseason fate was sealed by Ada-Borup with a three-set loss in the section quarterfinals.
Win-E-Mac will be on the road to open the season, starting with Thursday's contest in Climax. Seven of its final nine games, including five straight from Oct. 22-Nov. 7, are at home in Erskine.
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