Unique family mentality propels Pirates to all-around success
The header on the page on the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association's website reads: "You are about to witness something unique in track and field."
Across the United States, teams don't usually compete as teams beyond regional or sectional meets — individuals qualify for the state championship meet instead. A team might be a dominant force on the backs of elite athletes competing in just a handful of events, even if they might not have have any athletes who qualified for others.
In 1987, coaches across Minnesota came to the agreement that this system didn't accurately reward the best all-around team. So the MSHSCA created a meet that would.
In True Team competition, teams, not individuals, qualify for state. Each team is allowed a set number of entrants in a given event. Each entrant scores points for their team depending on where they finish. Essentially, what this means is that the 15th-place finisher in the 800-meter dash, for example, might be just as important as the 400-meter champion. Schools can't win True Team titles simply by having two or three dominant athletes. Instead, they need to be strong top-to-bottom.
Minnesota still crowns a champion by traditional format under the auspices of the MSHSL. But thanks to the MSHSCA, it is the only state to crown a True Team champion.
The Crookston girls' track and field team has qualified for three out of the last five Class A True Team meets, including the last two straight. Pirates coach Amy Boll was hopeful her team could make it three in a row last year, but the meet, and the entire season, was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a deep, talented roster this season, Boll and her team are eager to get another chance.
"We have a nice tradition of track and field and of students working hard," Boll said. "... I would love to see us advance some people to state and advance to the True Team meet like we've done before."
Crookston only has one senior: Emma Borowicz, who sprints, hurdles and pole vaults. But that belies how deep the Pirates are as a team. Over 50 girls between seventh and 12th grade are out this spring, many with substantial experience in their own right.
Borowicz, who plans on running track and field at Minnesota State-Mankato, was the lone Pirate to qualify for state in 2019. She made it in the 300-meter hurdles, an event which she had only started competing in earlier that year, and finished eighth in St. Paul. Hayden Winjum, a junior, made it to state on Crookston's 4x800 relay team in 2017, and has experience running anywhere from 100 meters to 800 meters as well as long jump and triple jump.
Breanna Kressin, another junior, has a history of strong performances in Section 8A. She finished fourth in the 100-meter hurdles at the 2019 section meet, fifth in the 300 hurdles and was on the 4x200 relay team that placed sixth there. Other returning Pirates who qualified for the section meet last season include freshmen Cassie Solheim and Emma Gunderson and sophomore Kailee Magsam.
While Crookston is heavy with sprinters and jumpers, Boll is still looking for runners to step up in the longer distances. Katherine Geist, a longtime force for the Pirates in the 1600 and 3200 meters, graduated last spring and now runs at Carleton College.
The Pirates won the Sub-Section 31A title in 2019 and finished fourth in the Section 8A meet, in addition to their second-place finish in the Section 8A True Team meet and 10th-place finish at True Team State. Boll understands the success Crookston has had in past years, but at this point, she's mostly focused with "living in the moment": athletes achieving new personal bests one meet at a time and seeing where it takes them.
"The girls are so excited just to have a season this year," Boll said. "We've only been out on the track a little bit because the weather, so until we get out there it's hard, but ... I can tell that the athletes have become stronger through their other sports and just growing, getting older and stuff like that."
Boll isn't quite sure what her team will look like at this point, due to inconsistent conditions as much as last spring's lost season. But she attributes much of the Pirates' past success to a united team culture, one she still sees as a strength this season.
"They compete together, they have a strong bond with each other, and they really strive to beat their personal goals and set goals and beat them every single meet," Boll said. "I think the bond comes from, we're all one big unit, one big nice team. They also break up into distance, sprinters, field events, and then they have another set of a family basically."
Taking this into account, Crookston's recent success as a True Team outfit makes sense. The Pirates have plenty of talented individuals, sure, but their family mentality makes them more than the sum of their parts.
The True Team format turns track and field, one of the most individual-focused of all high school sports, into a team competition, one where each athlete has an integral role to play. That's why it might not be a shock to see Crookston back there this season.
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