Young Pirates come into season enthusiastic to improve
When you have no seniors and just four players with any varsity experience at all, it's easier to see the bright spots from a day like Saturday.
The Crookston boys' tennis team lost to Alexandria and Monticello in a season-opening triangular in Alexandria, both defeats coming by 7-0 scores. No Pirates took even a set on the afternoon.
But as his team begins the process of rebuilding, Pirate head coach Cody Brekken could take away at least a couple things.
"Talking to the group as a whole afterwards, they were enthusiastic after that, and were able to get those butterflies out and say okay, I know what I gotta work on, what I need to get at," Brekken said. "... I can work with any players that are willing and happy and feeling good."
Brekken doesn't think he'll have any shortage there. Experience-wise, it's a different story.
Crookston's in a new position this year. In 2019, the Pirates had 11 seniors — a "humongous" senior class according to Brekken. Last year, had the season gone on as scheduled before COVID-19, they wouldn't have had any.
This season, they still don't have a single senior. While the junior class, consisting of eight players, is comparatively large, only a handful have varsity experience. A good chunk of Crookston's roster hasn't even played junior varsity before. Many, including some sophomores and juniors, are picking up the racket for the first time.
"It's gonna definitely be building at the start, but they've been awesome at practice, picking it up quick," Brekken said. "They've been in stride, learning a bunch, and it's been awesome to get them back to basics and see how much they're learning early.
"Tennis is a sport where once you kind of figure out how to play it, if you're a coordinated athlete you can pick it up pretty quick. That will work in our favor."
For now, the Pirates will rely heavily on the aforementioned junior class, especially Jack Garmen, Erik Coauette, Evan Christensen, Joey Brule and Mason Owens. Garmen was a regular on the 2019 varsity team, while Coauette, Christensen, Brule and Owens mixed on on occasion.
Garmen qualified for the Class A State Tournament as a freshman playing doubles with his brother, Nick Garmen. Brekken said he'll primarily play No. 1 singles this season out of necessity, but that he has high expectations no matter where he's playing.
"He's a good resource for the other kids to see what's right and where they've gotta step up and get to," Brekken said.
That's the case for all of Crookston's returners. With such a new team, Brekken's given his upperclassmen the reins to be coaches on the court, telling them to take initiative and give their younger teammates feedback when needed.
"Anytime you see those glaring easy mistakes, correct those if you see them," Brekken said. "A lot of guys are still learning basics, so the more we can do that and display some leadership the better we'll be off."
When asked what would make a successful season, Brekken didn't list off any concrete achievements or expectations. He mostly wants to see his players grow. And with more growing pains likely to come, he doesn't want them to get too down on themselves, either.
As the season goes on and Crookston moves into section competition (Section 8A is wide-open, in Brekken's opinion), Brekken expects to learn how close his Pirates are. For now, he just wants his team to focus on bringing the same kind of enthusiasm they showed Saturday, regardless of the results.
"Take it day-by-day, have fun and always look for those couple things to improve," Brekken said, "and you'll be surprised."
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