"Rookie" coach Bowman, Pirates looking to hit the ground running
Sunny Bowman likes to say that she was undefeated in her first year as Crookston's softball coach.
Just don't ask her how many games she won.
Bowman was hired in the fall of 2019. She coached her team through six practices in March of 2020 before the season was halted, and ultimately cancelled, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Right now, Bowman still considers herself a rookie head coach. But her situation is obviously a little different.
By the time last season was put on pause, Bowman had gotten just enough time to learn the names of most of the Pirates' players and what position they played. Once she and the team learned softball was a distant possibility, the Pirates created various groups on social media and tried to keep in touch.
"We did some activities and stuff like that even though we couldn't get together as a team," Bowman said. "Just to build that competitiveness, so that we could bond as a team without being in the same room."
Over the summer, Crookston got together to play a few scrimmage-type games against teams in its conference. The Pirates traveled up to Roseau and Greenbush for games and hosted Northern Freeze at home. In the meantime, the Pirates that were able to show up got together once a week for practices, mostly just to hit the ball around.
"I tried to keep softball in their minds," Bowman said. "A few reps during summertime doesn't hurt."
In a related development, Crookston was able to have its first practice outside, during the last week of March. Typically, the Pirates are kept inside due to snow or cold weather for the first month of practices. But COVID-19 scheduling considerations meant a late start to the season.
The impact of this: instead of practicing indoors at the Crookston Sports Center, where they have to use wiffle balls to scrimmage, the Pirates hit the ground running outdoors. Bowman considers this a positive.
Bowman's also gotten a read on the players she expects to be Crookston's major contributors. Behind senior hitters Amber Cymbaluk, Emma Boll, Kenze Epema and junior Jenna Coauette, Bowman expects the Pirates to be able to drive in some runs. On the flip side, she thinks the young pitching staff, which features Coauette as well as a large number of less-experienced hurlers, might struggle for the time being.
All in all, there's a foundation in place, and not one that could have been laid in place by a traditional "rookie" head coach.
But Bowman still hasn't coached Crookston in a competitive game. When she took the job, she inherited a team that last had a winning record in 2008, when the Pirates went 11-6. Over the last 11 years, Crookston has gone just 35-176, and went 2-18 in its most recent season.
"I'm not expecting to come out and win the conference or anything like that, but I expect to improve," Bowman said. "To become a little bit more competitive with those top teams. We're gonna be judging our wins by smaller things than what's on the scoreboard."
By smaller things, Bowman means hitting percentages, strikeouts, getting on base, smart at-bats. Essentially, the individual component parts to winning games.
"If we can start improving on those, I think that the wins will start to come," Bowman said.
Crookston's season begins Thursday, April 15 at home against East Grand Forks. At some point during the season, Bowman's unbeaten record as coach will almost certainly come to an end.
She'll probably be fine with it — as will her team.
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