State bound: How six Pirates punched their tickets to St. Michael

Jacob Shames
Crookston Times
Noah Kiel celebrates as he crosses the finish line first in the 100-meter dash.

The Crookston boys' 4x100-meter relay team's mantra is simple: just keep it close.

It doesn't matter if the Pirates are leading the race going into the final leg. Ethan Boll, Easton Tangquist and Caden Boike know that if they can at least stay within striking distance, Noah Kiel will do the rest.

Kiel is the sprinting king of Section 8A, a title the senior earned with wins in the 100 and 200-meter races at Tuesday's section meet in Park Rapids. But Crookston's section title in the 4x100 came not only courtesy of him, but Boll, Tangquist and Boike — a sophomore, a senior and a freshman; a once-unlikely combination of runners that came together at just the right time to earn a trip to the Minnesota Class A State Meet.

Crookston boys' track and field coach Wayne Folkers likes to structure his teams around relay events, as more athletes can make it to state that way. But it's not as simple as bringing your four fastest runners together — it's the exchanging of the baton that allows a relay team to sink or swim. Chemistry, timing, dexterity: if any of those are absent from the handoff, success will be too.

Early on, that's where the Pirates struggled. They'd take off slightly too early or slightly too late, causing crucial time to be lost. 

Things began to change midway through the season. Originally, the Pirates had stacked the 4x200 — intended to be their 'A' relay — with their top runners. But Kiel switched from the 4x200 to the 4x100 starting with the True North Conference meet on May 15, and Boll, who spent most of the season splitting time between baseball and track and therefore unable to race in meets, competed for the first time at the Ada-Borup Invitational in May.

Caden Boike rounds a turn in the 4x200.

With repetition after repetition, the Pirate foursome began to resemble a finely-tuned unit rather than a collection of talented individuals. They finished first in Ada and won last week's Subsection 31 title as well, dropping their time from 46.02 to 45.74 seconds.

"Handoffs I definitely think started kind of bad, but we've done them so many times now that we're pretty confident," Tangquist said. "We knew the handoffs were gonna be the key to winning."

On Tuesday, Boll had the Pirates in second place when he handed off to Tangquist, who maintained that position when he passed the baton to Boike. This was right where they needed to be — the top two teams would automatically qualify for state.

Runners from Park Rapids and Roseau slightly overtook Boike as he rounded the turn. But Tangquist, watching from the infield, wasn't worried.

"Even if we were behind by one or two steps, I knew that would be definitely enough for Kiel to catch up," he said.

Boike steamed into the final turn and prepared to pass the baton to Kiel. This time, the exchange was perfect: not too early, not too late, with Kiel already sprinting as he grabbed the golden cylinder.

Now, all that was left for Boike to do was watch. He saw Kiel gaining, maybe not all the way but seemingly pretty close. 

Those in the stands, however, would have seen the moment it happened: Kiel, who started nearly a half-second out of second place, passed Roseau's Garon Schumacher and Park Christian's Kyle Gorman with just about 25 meters to go.

Easton Tangquist carries the baton on the second leg of the 4x100.

As Tangquist made his way to the finish line, he was terrified. He saw Kiel take third, but from there he had no clue. Boike, still back towards where he had stepped off the track, couldn't tell either. He found out from Tangquist's reaction.

"He started jumping up and down and he was freaking out," Boike said. "And then I knew."

Six hundredths of a second separated Kiel from second-place Gorman; 33 hundredths from Schumacher. With a time of 45.27 seconds, Crookston's 4x100 team was going to state.

By virtue of his earlier win in the 100-meter dash, Kiel's ticket to state was already punched. In addition, he had competed at state once before, as a sophomore. But he wanted even more — for Boike, Boll and Tangquist, who had never been to state before, as much as for himself.

As he waited anxiously for Boike to arrive with the baton, he had one thought on his mind.

I gotta win this.

"I wanted them to experience (state)," Kiel said. "It's so much fun to go down there."

And just as Kiel's mindset was to bring it home for his teammates, they'll be hoping to do the same when they compete next Friday in St. Michael.

"I just want to do two things," Boike said. "One, I want to do my best. Two, I want to especially do it for those seniors. It's really an honor to get to run with them."

Ethan Boll and the Crookston boys' 4x100-meter relay qualified for state.

Kiel goes 3-for-3

In 2019, Kiel was Crookston's only male qualifier for state. While he made the trip with teammate Brady Wisk keeping him company, he thinks that this time around, with three teammates instead of one, will be a lot more enjoyable.

Racing-wise, he'll get the best of both worlds. After winning the 100-meter dash with a time of 11:47, .04 seconds ahead of Nevis eighth-grader Ayo Ogundeji, Kiel won the 200 in 22.50 seconds, this time beating Ogundeji by .29 and capping off a dominant day: three section titles in as many events.

"That first 100 I felt pretty good, and about the last 50 meters I started to really feel it in my legs," Kiel said of his 200. "They were just dying."

Kiel has plenty of time to recover now as he'll look to improve on his 2019 performance at state. He placed 11th in the 100 (11.59 seconds) and 14th in the 200 (23.78), failing to qualify for the finals in both events.

"I'm really hoping to get on the podium this year," Kiel said. "I'd really like to get my 200 down to a really low 22 or even a 21."

Breanna Kressin in the 100-meter hurdles.

Kressin remains untouchable in 100 hurdles

For Breanna Kressin, Tuesday was part competition and part coronation.

The Crookston junior came into the section meet having yet to lose in the 100-meter hurdles. Her seed time, 15.72 seconds, was over a full second faster than anyone she'd be racing.

Anybody other than Kressin standing atop the podium would have been a monumental upset. She made sure that didn't happen.

Kressin's time — 15.98 seconds — wasn't her fastest, but still outpaced her competition by a long shot. On a day when the temperatures drifted into the upper 90s, she seemed to barely break a sweat.

"My goal was just to do a clean race," Kressin said. "Three-step the whole thing and do the best that I could."

With nobody to seriously challenge her in Section 8A, Kressin's been competing primarily against herself and her own times as of late. At the start of this season, she set two first-time goals for herself: break 16 seconds, and also three-step an entire race — meaning taking a consistent three steps between each and every hurdle.

She three-stepped for the first time in East Grand Forks on April 27. She ran sub-16 for the first time in Ada a month later. She did both on Tuesday, and earned her first trip to state as a result.

Emma Borowicz placed second in the pole vault to advance to state.

Borowicz set for third trip to state

Emma Borowicz didn't come away with a section title in any of her three events (two individual, one relay) on Tuesday. However, she did enough to ensure her senior season will end with a state meet appearance.

The senior competed on Crookston's 4x800-meter relay team as an eighth-grader in 2017 and finished eighth in the 300-meter hurdles (47.30 seconds) as a sophomore. But Borowicz's third trip to state will be different from the previous two, as she'll be competing in two events.

Borowicz finished third in pole vault at the 2019 Section 8A meet with a vault of nine feet flat, missing out on a state berth by a tiebreaker. This year, she came out on the other side of the tiebreaker, winning over East Grand Forks' Malia Beich and Park Rapids' Morgan Koppelman, both of whom also vaulted 9'2", to take second place.

At section two years ago, Borowicz finished first in the 300 hurdles, her signature event. But Thief River Falls' Brooklyn Brouse, who had beaten Borowicz consistently this season, figured to give her more competition this season. While Brouse won in 45.38 seconds, Borowicz came in second with a strong 46.12 second effort.

Emma Borowicz in the 300-meter hurdles.

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