Pirates hopeful to contend thanks to experienced core
Jeff Perreault sees it happen all the time.
Young girls pick up golf looking for something to do during the spring. But as they get older they lose interest, looking to try another sport or focus on academics. Golf is as much recreation as competition, and some girls, by the time they're seniors, want to recreate in a different way.
That's why Perreault, the Crookston girls' golf coach, was surprised when looking at his roster this season. The Pirates, who in a typical year might have one or two seniors, have four, including two with significant varsity experience.
After last season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Perreault was "fearful" of low interest that wouldn't be limited to the senior class. Instead, Crookston's numbers top to bottom are as great as ever. The Pirates have 22 girls out between seventh and 12th grade, including eight seventh-graders.
It's a roster that gives the Pirates optimism that this year might be their year. And much of it starts with Jasmine Haglund, Joslynn Leach, Savannah Meine and Sophia Rezac, four seniors who started years ago and have stuck it out since.
"We're going to be looking to their leadership because we do have a lot of youngsters that are out," Perreault said. "Hopefully they can show us the way."
Leach, a captain, is the lone Pirate with state tournament experience. She qualified for the tournament as a freshman in 2018, finishing 59th at The Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan, but came up short of qualifying again in 2019. That disappointment, though, makes her all the more driven to get back this season.
"She wants to finish in the top five in our section and get down to that state tournament and give it another try," Perreault said. "First time she was young and the course kind of beat her up a little bit, but she learned a lot and she's excited to try to get down there again."
Rezac is Crookston's other captain and another multiple-year member of the varsity squad. She played plenty of golf last summer in an effort to improve, according to Perreault.
"You're always excited to hear that as a coach," Perreault said. "Even in the middle of summer, you see her golfing a lot, that's how you get better in this game. For sure she put in the time."
Perreault doesn't know how much golf Haglund and Meine have played recently, but he's still optimistic they'll be able to claim spots in the top six. Both have been with the program since seventh grade, and Perreault says they've gotten better every year.
The Pirates also return Hannah Brouse from their section lineup in 2019 (Bailey Cameron, a freshman on that team, decided not to play this season). Perreault wants to see more consistency out of Brouse, a "really athletic" sophomore with the potential to regularly score in the 90s.
The other spots in Crookston's lineup will go to a mix of young players. Some have gotten a bit of action on varsity before, but Perreault said it will depend on who's been getting out on the course most recently and working the hardest on their games.
"We're gonna take a good look," Perreault said. "I see a bunch of different people rolling through. ... Next week we'll be able to see them in a contest, see them compete and see what they've got."
Before the 2020 season was erased, Perreault saw the Pirates as among the favorites for the Section 8AA championship for the first time in years. Not only did they have a talented group themselves, but Detroit Lakes, which had won the section title 10 straight seasons and the Class AA state title in six of those, had moved up to Class AAA.
The Lakers won the section crown by 91 strokes in 2019, a greater difference than between second-place Perham and sixth-place Roseau. (Crookston placed fourth, 131 strokes back of the Detroit Lakes.)
But the juggernaut Lakers aren't coming back, and Perreault expects Section 8AA to be just as wide open this season. His Pirates are always in the conversation, along with teams like Park Rapids, Perham and Roseau. This year, those teams will be competing for first instead of second.
"If the three that we have coming back play well, we'll definitely be, if not the top team, one of the top two in our conference. Section-wise, top three is the hope," Perreault said. "... If this group performs at the level that we can and we get ourselves looking at a chance to go to a state tournament as a team, it would be fun."
Before Detroit Lakes' epic run, the last team to win Section 8AA was Crookston in 2009, when the Pirates finished third at state.
If Crookston ultimately does bookend the Lakers' dominance and claim this year's section title, it won't just be because it makes narrative sense.
"With our two seniors that were on the section team (in 2019), it's just been there, done that," Perreault said. "They're the calming voice, and they're gonna be there to help these younger kids maneuver around the courses and just figure out how to go about their business. It's irreplaceable having senior leadership like that."
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