Pirates start strong but fade in season-opening loss to Ada-Borup
The Crookston volleyball team wasn't expecting to have fans in attendance for its season opener.
On Thursday morning, the Minnesota Department of Education had updated its attendance guidelines for indoor high school sporting events. Previously, fans weren't allowed at all. Now, each team could have a maximum of two spectators per player, with each spectator group sitting at least six feet apart.
The decision came down on such short notice that it wasn't a sure thing that it'd go into effect for the Pirates' game against Ada-Borup West. But athletic director Greg Garmen and the Crookston staff worked quickly to implement a plan and prepare the gym for fans that very night.
"We didn't get the announcement until later this afternoon that the fans would be in here," said coach Ashley Stopa. "We were expecting quiet, and we would be the only ones here. It was a very pleasant surprise."
And it seemed to help the Pirates in the early going. With more energy behind them in their home building, they led throughout the entire first set, winning 25-23 to go up on the Cougars — who won the Section 8A championship in 2017 and 2018 and were runners-up last season.
But Ada-Borup came back with a vengeance. They dominated the second set and came from behind in each of the final two sets, coming away with a 3-1 win over Crookston Thursday night in both team's first game.
While the first set served as a statement for the Pirates — a sign that they might be much improved on their 2-21 record from 2019 — the second set was the Cougars' turn to make their own. They blitzed Crookston en route to taking a 17-3 lead, and cruised to an easy, 25-10 win.
"At the very end, I explained to them that when it's not going your way, you finish the set how you want to start the next one," Stopa said. "You can't just let that set go. You really have to fight for those last few points."
The Pirates heeded their coach's advice in the third set, scoring the set's first six points, and going up by as much as 12-2. But their trouble Thursday night wasn't in getting out to leads. It was holding onto them.
In the first set, they led by as many as six points, but allowed the Cougars to tie it at 23 before closing them out. They wouldn't be as lucky in the third. Ada-Borup clawed back, from 14-9 to 19-16 to 20-20 before taking the lead and the set, 27-25.
"I think we just need to shake off when we make one little mistake," said junior Rylee Solheim. "We started making one mistake and then it just went into a long thing of making more mistakes. We need to get out of that."
The fourth set, though, was a near carbon copy of the third. Crookston didn't lead by as much, but still built a 20-14 advantage, five points away from a winner-take-all fifth set.
But once again, the Pirates' mistakes started to pile up. The Cougars ran off a 7-0 run to take the lead, and didn't look back from there, winning 25-22.
For a spell, it looked like it might be a dream season opener for Crookston. Instead, the Pirates were given a rude awakening, and a lesson for the future.
"We talked about not letting one thing impact the next one," Stopa said. "It's very hard, especially for volleyball players, to reset on that next ball. So we're talking about how we let it go, we focus on the positive and then we try our best on the next one.
"You shank a ball, everyone shanks a ball. You don't get the block, everyone does that. Just knowing when you do your best, you're doing what you can do."
UP NEXT: The Pirates will head to Fertile to take on Fertile-Beltrami Saturday. The match, which will start at 12:15, will be Crookston's only day game of the season.
The Falcons beat Red Lake Falls, 3-1, in their own season opener on Thursday.
- Ada-Borup West 3, Crookston 1 (23-25, 25-10, 27-25, 25-22)
- Kills: Mallorie Sundeen 6, Rylee Solheim 5
- Blocks: none
- Assists: Emily Funk 9
- Digs: Rylee Solheim 9, Amber Cymbaluk 8, Emma Boll 8
- Aces: Emma Boll 3, Amber Cymbaluk 2
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