In wake of shutdown, CHS winter sports coaches adjust and look ahead

Jacob Shames
Crookston Times
Crookston's Raina Satrom goes after the puck in a game against East Grand Forks on Nov. 21, 2019. Girls' hockey and all other winter sports have been pushed back due to Gov. Tim Walz's executive order which called for a pause on high school athletics.

It didn't take long for Josh Hardy's sadness to turn to excitement.

The Crookston boys' hockey coach had been bracing for the announcement since well before Nov. 18, when Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order halting high school sports for four weeks. All signs — rising COVID-19 numbers in Minnesota, the effects of the looming Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks — pointed in that direction.

But Hardy soon realized what the four-week pause entailed. In effect, it made for a preseason unlike anything the Pirates have had before. Hardy wouldn't be able to get his team together on the ice, but he had video technology at his disposal. He could still drill his team on the basics of their schemes, their forecheck, their power play and penalty kill. He could still post workouts online, using an app enabling him to track his players' progress, and go over film multiple times a week.

"We're going to attack each day and do our best with whatever circumstances are laid in front of us," Hardy said. " 'Adapt and thrive' is our motto this year, and we're going to embrace that."

All of Crookston High School's winter sports coaches have been placed in the same boat. Boys' hockey, along with boys' basketball, was supposed to start on Nov. 23, while wrestling and girls' hockey were scheduled to start practices Nov. 30. Girls' basketball was looking forward to a Dec. 7 start date. Now, with all activities shut down until Dec. 19, it's possible no sport will be able to meet in-person until January, after winter break ends.

Crookston boys' hockey coach Josh Hardy is excited about being able to work virtually with his team while sports are on pause.

Like Hardy, girls' hockey coach Tim Moe sees a silver lining. His team usually includes several athletes from Mayville, N.D., who play for the Pirates as part of a co-op arrangement. This season will be the first that all of Moe's athletes, including the Mayville players, will start the season together — usually, Moe has to wait for the North Dakota volleyball season to finish.

To Moe, having everybody together, even just virtually, is the most important thing. He has plans to implement some courses and group work, where his players can learn and discuss hockey sense and other keys to the mental side of the game. But for now, hockey is "on the back burner."

"We weren't even able to have a season-ending banquet last year," Moe said. "It's been a long time since we've been together as a group. Even in school, you see half the kids there at a time, and you're really not mingling all that much. If I don't have them in class (Moe teaches social studies), I really haven't seen or been able to talk to them.

"We've been sending out emails and things like that, so we'll get on Zoom and have that kind of communication, face-to-face stuff. You lose quite a bit with just emails and texting. It's nice to see them face-to-face and really see how things are going for them."

While each Pirate coach gleaned some degree of positive from the pause, wrestling coach Wes Hanson was a bit less optimistic, admitting "we don't have a great game plan moving forward." That's more a reflection on the nature of wrestling: Hanson plans to show his athletes video of old matches and talk through finer points of technique, but there's no substitute for being on the mat. For now, he's focusing more on making sure his team stays in shape.

Crookston wrestling coach Wes Hanson plans to show his athletes video of old matches and teach technique during the four-week shutdown.

"A huge thing right now is to try to get their bodies into conditioning," Hanson said. "I'll be pushing out workouts and encouraging them to try to build their strength."

That's really all athletes in any sport can do. Gyms are closed currently, limiting athletes to what they can do at home. With winter soon to be in full swing, going outdoors is a challenge — taking away a potential avenue for skill development for basketball and hockey.

"The most difficult part is that kids have no place to work out and cannot get outside as the weather turns more into winter," said boys' basketball coach Greg Garmen. "If it were nice out, they could get out and do some things in their driveway."

But coaches still singled out physical activity, in any form, as a way to stave off the mental hurdles that come with sports being on hiatus.

Moe also pointed to developing a routine. With CHS still in distance learning, he worries about the days when his players might be "asynchronous," sleeping in until noon or even later. He, and other coaches, think that getting athletes in some sort of routine is critical in regards to their mental well-being, whether that be scheduling Zoom meetings early in the morning or setting up designated workout times.

"Having a plan for the next few weeks is important to keep our athletes engaged and ready to roll once the season does start," Hardy said. "There's some normalcy in that."

Crookston's Jacob Hesby drives between two Wadena-Deer Creek defenders during a game between the Pirates and Wolverines last season.

No one (even Garmen, the athletic director) has gotten any solid indication of when the season might actually start — Hardy didn't even entertain the topic, believing that he'd only be giving athletes false hope by speculating on it. In that context, girls' basketball coach Darin Zimmerman sees uncertainty as the toughest challenge.

Zimmerman understands that his players are disappointed; scared that their seasons are hanging in the balance. Even so, he hopes that they can dedicate themselves to getting better in some form.

"Not having exact timelines, starting/ending things worked out, that certainly takes a toll on us," Zimmerman said. " ... Just understanding that there's things we can do, even when we're at home, that can improve us as people, improve us as players. Even though we can't get out and practice together, routines can be developed.

"There's lots of opportunities to get better every single day during this next month. The challenge is to get better every day, and when you're working to do those things, you find purpose in what you're doing."

If that's not enough, Zimmerman stressed the importance of believing that things will get better; having faith in the people making decisions and having a positive attitude. That, more or less, is Moe's message to his team. This too shall pass. We will get through this pandemic.

"Everybody wants you to play," he said. "This is not something that anybody is out there going out of their way to make sure you're not gonna play. But you have to understand that there's other things going on in the world right now, and we'll get through it, and it will be easier if we do it together."

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Crookston's Emma Borowicz drives on a Perham defender during the Pirates' game against the Yellowjackets in Crookston last season.