Crookston girls' soccer season in review

Jacob Shames
Crookston Times
Sarah Reese coached the Crookston girls' soccer team to a 4-8 record in 2020, the Pirates' best record in 11 years.

This article is the third in a series recapping the seasons of Crookston High School's fall sports teams. Previously: girls' tennis, boys' soccer. Today: girls' soccer.

From the outset, 2020 looked like it would be different for the Crookston girls' soccer team. 

The Pirates opened their season on Aug. 27 by blasting Walker-Hackensack-Akeley, 7-2. They dropped tight, 1-0 games at Hillcrest Lutheran and against Detroit Lakes, and then ran past Pelican Rapids, 5-1, on Sept. 8.

The momentum from this encouraging, 2-2 start with a 12-5 goal differential fizzled out, though, as Crookston then dropped five straight games. But the Pirates righted the ship by beating W-H-A 4-0 to cap off the regular season, and thrashed the Wolves 7-0 in the Section 8A play-in game.

A 6-1 loss at East Grand Forks on Oct. 13 ended Crookston's season at 4-8. When viewed through the context of the Pirates' recent history, it's a massive breakthrough — it's their best record since 2009. The Pirates scored 26 goals and allowed 29, also their best differential in over a decade.

It's important to note that the Pirates' stats were boosted by playing three of 12 games against perennial Section 8A bottom-dwellers Walker-Hackensack-Akeley. But for the last decade, Crookston was right there with them.

In 2020, though, the Pirates built on a four-win 2019, proving they've taken a step out of the basement. They were competitive against even the best teams in the section: last year, they fell 15-0 to the Green Wave, but this year, they scored their first goal against EGF since 2017.

Kenze Epema scored 10 goals and five assists to lead the offense, and Cassie Solheim scored seven goals and one assist. On defense, Reese Swanson recorded a save percentage of 81.3%, while Rylee Solheim and Kailee Magsam, newcomers from volleyball, teamed up with Dillynn and JoJo Wallace to form a scrappy, cohesive back four. Olivia Huck was an all-around threat in central midfield, scoring two goals and chipping in with a team-high seven assists.

Those standout performances are just some of the reasons why the future of Crookston soccer looks brighter than it has in some time.

Olivia Huck earned All-Conference honors after a junior season in which she scored two goals and had seven assists.

Key facts

  • Record: 4-8 (4-8 Section 8A)
  • Regular season: earned eighth seed in Section 8A North
  • Postseason: lost 6-1 to East Grand Forks in Section 8A North Quarterfinals
  • Scoring: Kenze Epema (10 goals, 5 assists), Cassie Solheim (7 goals, 1 assist), Olivia Huck (2 goals, 7 assists), Clara Meyer (2 goals, 4 assists)
  • Goalkeeping: Reese Swanson (113/139 saves)
  • Seniors: Danielle Haake, Joslynn Leach, Kenze Epema

Memorable moments

It took just 90 seconds for the Pirates to get going in their season opener. Epema tracked down a long ball up the middle and delivered a cross to a waiting Solheim. From there, the goals just kept coming: Solheim scored two more for the hat trick, Epema found the net twice herself, and Magsam, playing in her first soccer game ever, scored late as a substitute.

Crookston overwhelmed Walker-Hackensack-Akeley that afternoon with sheer speed and skill. Epema and Solheim, a "dynamic duo" in their words, combined to form a lethal strike partnership, while Huck and Clara Meyer distributed pinpoint balls from midfield. 

Other memorable moments included Epema's second-half goal against East Grand Forks on Sept. 21 to break a six-game rivalry drought, as well as Crookston's third win over the Wolves on Oct. 8 — its first postseason win in five years.

What's next?

Replacing Epema — a player who accounted for nearly 40 percent of the Pirates' offensive output — won't be easy. Neither will replacing central midfielder Joslynn Leach or key reserve Danielle Haake. 

But the rest of Crookston's core will return intact. Huck, Meyer, Dillynn Wallace and Aleah Bienek make up a reliable cadre of seniors, and Solheim and Magsam, should they return to soccer next season, will only be improved in their second year.

Solheim, just a freshman this season, looked like a go-to attacking option, and the Pirates should feel secure with three more years of Swanson between the posts. The future also looks bright for JoJo Wallace and Maddie Harbott, who were key contributors in their eighth-grade seasons.

The Times welcomes your feedback. You can send any comments or questions to our office at (218) 281-2730 or sports editor Jacob Shames at jshames@crookstontimes.com.

Follow along on Twitter @crookstonsports and @Jacob_Shames for all the latest stories and live game updates.

Kenze Epema scored a team-high 10 goals for Crookston this season.