Crookston winter high school sports at (roughly) the midpoint

Jacob Shames
Crookston Times

After four weeks of the most unique winter sports season ever, and with only a few more weeks of regular-season play before playoffs begin, let's take a look at what's gone on so far on the Crookston High School sports scene.

Boys' basketball

Easton Tangquist leads the Crookston boys' basketball team in scoring this season.
  • Record: 1-8 (0-8 Section 8AA), 9th in Section 8AA North
  • Notable results: L 75-65 vs. Roseau (Jan. 19), W 68-39 vs. Climax-Fisher (Jan. 21), L 75-53 vs. Park Rapids (Feb. 2), L 83-46 vs. East Grand Forks (Feb. 12)
  • Leaders: senior Easton Tangquist (12.6 ppg), junior Jack Garmen (10.4 ppg), senior Carter Bruggeman (7.9 ppg), senior Jacob Miller (5.4 ppg), junior Brooks Butt (4.0 ppg)

So far: After a 1-2 start, Crookston has dropped its last six. Allowing 67.8 points per game, the Pirates' defense ranks last in Section 8AA, and their offense is just slightly better, ranking 17th out of 18 teams at 46.6 points on average. They've scored less than 40 points in over half their games.

Crookston has been hurt by a lack of size inside, and absences of key players over the last two weeks haven't helped, either. The backcourt of Easton Tangquist, Jack Garmen and Carter Bruggeman has fought hard to provide some semblance of scoring, but it hasn't come on a consistent basis.

What's next: The Pirates sit in last place in their division, but games against seventh-place Roseau (Feb. 18) and eighth-place Bagley (March 9) figure to be competitive. Win-E-Mac (Feb. 16), Fertile-Beltrami (Feb. 23) and Warroad (March 11) will be their most challenging remaining contests. With improved shooting, there's reason to believe that an experienced backcourt can keep Crookston somewhat afloat.

Quotable: "We've got some kids who can shoot it. Except the ones that I thought would shoot better didn't and the ones I wasn't sure of did." - coach Greg Garmen after the season opener

"We're not a big team, and we gotta have kids who go get boards. It's such a tall man's game, we're not very tall man-for-man, so it's gonna be a challenge." - Garmen after falling to Roseau

Girls' basketball

The Crookston girls' basketball team is off to a 7-2 start this season, with a win over defending Section 8AA champion Pelican Rapids on Feb. 6.
  • Record: 7-2 (6-2 Section 8AA), 1st in Section 8AA North
  • Notable results: W 73-29 vs. Roseau (Jan. 26), W 52-24 at East Grand Forks (Jan. 28), W 49-34 at Pelican Rapids (Feb. 6), L 44-37 at Fergus Falls (Feb. 12)
  • Leaders: senior Emma Borowicz (13.9 ppg), freshman Halle Winjum (11.9 ppg), junior Emma Osborn (8.3 ppg), junior Hayden Winjum (8.0 ppg), senior Emma Boll (5.6 ppg)

So far: With the second-best defense and fourth-best offense in Section 8AA, and one of the fiercest defenses in the entire state, the Pirates look like a bona fide contender for their first section crown since 2008. Emma Borowicz and Halle Winjum have the potential to explode for big scoring nights, Hayden Winjum's long arms key a stifling defense, Emma Osborn and Abby Borowicz provide shooting and Emma Boll has been tough down low.

For most of the season, the question with Crookston was the quality of its opposition, as it faced just two teams with winning records in its first seven games (and lost to one). Beating Pelican Rapids by 15 points on the road went a long, long way in answering that question, though.

What's next: Crookston has already acquitted itself well against Pelican Rapids and Fergus Falls, teams that squared off in the section title game last year, but the road ahead doesn't get any easier. Tuesday, the Pirates travel to unbeaten Stephen-Argyle, and they also have Perham (Feb. 25), Hawley (March 1) and Moorhead (March 8) on the schedule. There could be as many as seven legitimate threats for the section title this season, of which Crookston's only one.

Quotable: "We're starting to hit our stride a little bit on the offensive side, which we gotta continue to do. We pride ourselves, certainly, on the way that we play defense, and that's the first expectation. You gotta come out and you gotta get stops and try to disrupt what the other team is doing." - coach Darin Zimmerman after beating Roseau

"This team has all the makings of being a great team. We just gotta keep getting better every day." - Zimmerman after the win over Pelican Rapids

Boys' hockey

Jack Doda has scored 10 points in six games for the Crookston boys' hockey team.
  • Record: 1-5 (1-3 Section 8A), 9th in Section 8A
  • Notable results: L 7-5 at Kittson County Central (Jan. 19), L 8-3 at Thief River Falls (Jan. 28), W 4-2 at Lake of the Woods (Feb. 5)
  • Leaders: senior Kaleb Thingelstad (5 goals, 6 assists), sophomore Jack Doda (4 goals, 6 assists), sophomore Alex Longoria (4 goals, 3 assists), senior Noah Kiel (3 goals, 1 assist), senior Noah Dragseth (1-2, .908 save percentage, 39.7 saves per game)

So far: Say this for the Pirates: they might continue to lose more games than they win, but they're likely to be very entertaining about it. They nearly came back from a 5-0 deficit in their season opener, and they're averaging 3.2 goals per game — nearly as many as middle-of-the-pack teams Detroit Lakes and Thief River Falls, and more than Park Rapids and Lake of the Woods.

Crookston's work has been cut out for it this season, with a young nucleus and a thin roster, but the Pirates play a fast-paced style with flashes of real skill. Kaleb Thingelstad, Noah Kiel and Noah Dragseth have been strong veteran presences, and Jack Doda and Alex Longoria have continued to blossom.

What's next: The Pirates had to postpone last week's games against Kittson Central and Red Lake Falls due to being short on players. They'll face some tough competition ahead, with East Grand Forks on Feb. 23 and two games against Warroad, but they should have winnable games against Park Rapids (Feb. 25, March 11). The No. 7 seed in Section 8A figures to be attainable for them.

Quotable: "We have tons of offensive skill. We're going to be able to score goals. The question will be how strong we are defensively, and we have some work to do there." - coach Josh Hardy before the season

"I thought there was times that we looked really good tonight, and there was times where we looked overwhelmed. That's kind of to be expected at the beginning of the season, especially with the youth that we have." - Hardy after the loss to Bemidji

Girls' hockey

Senior Nora Peterson is tied for the team lead in scoring for the Crookston girls' hockey team.
  • Record: 4-6 (2-4 Section 8A), 4th in Section 8A
  • Notable results: L 14-0 at Warroad (Jan. 22), W 1-0 vs. East Grand Forks (Feb. 2), W 4-2 vs. Detroit Lakes (Feb. 6), L 3-1 at Thief River Falls (Feb. 11)
  • Leaders: freshman Reese Swanson (6 goals, 2 assists), senior Nora Peterson (4 goals, 4 assists), senior Kenze Epema (1 goal, 5 assists), freshman Brekken Tull (2 goals, 2 assists), sophomore Kailee Magsam (4-6, .849 save percentage, 18.5 saves per game)

So far: The Pirates have continued building on the positive strides they took last season, in which they won over 10 games for the first time since 2013. Seniors Nora Peterson, Catherine Tiedemann and Kenze Epema have been productive as usual, while young players such as Reese Swanson, Brekken Tull and Addie Fee have broken out and shown big-time flashes in their first varsity action. 

Crookston likes to flex its substantial depth (it often rolls four lines and three defense pairings), along with an energetic and suffocating forecheck. This has helped the Pirates consistently outshoot their opponents, but they still have struggled on occasion to score right in front of the net, due to a combination of unlucky bounces and lack of strength.

What's next: Warroad is the runaway favorite to win Section 8A, and Thief River Falls is back in the drivers' seat for No. 2. But Crookston's proven to be competitive with everyone in the section sans the Warriors. That will be even more so if the Pirates' ability to create quality chances turns into goals more consistently (they're scoring just two per game, despite outshooting opponents 28.3-22.1 on average).

Quotable: "It's fun to be rewarded in the win column. You play well, you do a lot of things right, but you don't always see, you don't believe it sometimes that you're actually doing those things right when you aren't getting rewarded with wins." - coach Tim Moe after beating West Fargo United

"It's been a long time, and it feels good. I'm an East Grand Forks grad. I've known all those coaches for a long time, and a lot of the kids. I told the girls, this is the game that I've most wanted to get for the last four years since I came back. And to do it with the group of kids that we have — they work hard, they're resilient, this is a great group of kids." - Moe after the Pirates' first win over East Grand Forks in 19 tries

Dance

The Crookston dance team has competed four times this season, most recently in Detroit Lakes on Saturday, Feb. 13.

So far: While all of the other Crookston winter sports teams had to shut down altogether when Gov. Tim Walz announced a pause of activities in November, the Pirates' dancers were able to continue. They participated in practices over Zoom for over a month (albeit without their full team), before returning to the studio in-person in early January.

Crookston got its season underway in Hawley with a seventh-place finish in kick. With a young roster (eight seventh and eighth-graders, no seniors and only one junior), the Pirates have consistently recorded higher scores than in past years in both jazz and kick divisions.

What's next: The Pirates, who got to see how they stacked up against Class AA opponents in Detroit Lakes this past weekend, will compete in Frazee this Friday. They were scheduled to open their season there on Jan. 15 before the competition was cancelled. Saturday, they'll be in Blackduck for a non-competitive performance to cap off the regular season.

Quotable: "My expectation for this season is to keep our kick scores high, and our goal is placing in top five in kick by the end of the season. For jazz, I would like keep improving on our technique skills, and our goal is to score higher than we have in previous seasons." - coach Grace Espinosa before the season

"I am so proud of how they handled it. Seeing them hit the floor and getting as high of scores that they did was great to see." - Espinosa after the Pirates' first competition of the season

Wrestling

Zach Brown is off to an 18-2 start this season for the Crookston wrestling team.

So far: After sending five wrestlers to state in 2020, Crookston came in to this season with high expectations, but with a goal to improve as a dual team. So far, so good. The Pirates have won 14 of their first 20 duals, and have challenged themselves heavily with matches against state qualifiers Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City and Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie, Badger/Greenbush-Middle River and West Central Area/Ashby/Brandon-Evansville, to name a few.

The Pirates have been a juggernaut at the lower weights, with Evin Trudeau, Nolan Dans, Carter Coauette, Ethan Bowman, Zach Brown, Braxton Volker and Cameron Weiland combining for a record of 104-21. Hunter Knutson and Ethan Boll have held down the fort up top. Young wrestlers like Spencer Ness, Layten Fuentes and Hunter Kresl have taken strides, too.

What's next: The tough competition will continue for Crookston, which will wrestle defending Class A champion Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Browerville on Feb. 23 and face off against Class AA No. 9 Thief River Falls on Feb. 25. The Pirates are unquestionably in the top half of Section 8A, but their contender status will be put to the test with matchups against Fosston/Bagley (Feb. 18) and Frazee and United North Central (March 4).

Quotable: "We had a strong showing last year individually. We won some big duals, but we know that we can be a lot better team if we learn how to work together as a team and really put that as our focus." - Hanson before the season 

"You have to be getting strong competition for your guys throughout the year to keep them pushing forward. ... I think it will be hopefully a motivation for our guys to help them understand, hey, you're there, but we didn't close the deal." - Hanson after the dual loss to BGMR

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.

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