Boys' soccer: Pirates hope to build off of last season's finish

Jacob Shames
Crookston Times
Crookston boys' soccer went just 2-13 last season in Lon Boike's first season as head coach, but went 2-2 down the stretch, fostering optimism going forward.

Lon Boike’s first year as the head coach of the Crookston boys’ soccer team transpired predictably.

Which is to say: the Pirates struggled, as teams with new head coaches do. They lost their first 11 games, scoring just six goals and allowing 63.

But things changed down the stretch. Crookston beat Hibbing/Chisholm and Mesabi East at home in late September by a combined 7-3, and in its first playoff game, battled Detroit Lakes scoreless until giving up a “pretty lucky” header in the final minute.

Boike’s been around Crookston athletics for a long time, having once coached girls’ basketball and volleyball, but his transition to the pitch brought plenty of growing pains nonetheless. Getting familiar with the team. Implementing a new system. All that takes time.

The more time the Pirates got, they got better. And while a 2-13 record won’t blow anybody away, they did what every team sets out to do at the start of the season — play their best soccer at the end.

There’s reason to believe they can build off that.

When Boike is asked what changed towards the end of the season, he cites a stouter defense. A more dangerous offense. Players feeling more comfortable. Not a bad team getting hot at the right time. Instead, growth and what could be a foundation for something more.

“Defensively, we got better,” he said last Wednesday. “Offensively, we were a lot more patient moving the ball around, instead of just kicking it down the field and hoping one guy can run it down and score. Instead, we were able to set up and move the ball around and create opportunities for ourselves.”

As for specifics, Boike pointed to Noah Dragseth (Sr.), one of this year’s captains. After pulling a leg muscle midway through last season, Dragseth asked if he could switch to defense from midfield. His presence along the back line was a revelation, and Boike expects Dragseth to play both positions this season.

“(Defense) is really a natural spot for him,” Boike said. “He really anchored our defense the second half of the season. He was the captain back there, and helped some of the younger kids back there.”

Up top, Noah Kiel (Sr.) is locked in as the Pirates’ striker after leading the team with six goals last season, earning an honorable mention All-Conference nod. Boike called Kiel, who qualified for state in track and field in 2019, “one of the fastest guys in the state.”

“With him up there, we wanna take advantage of that as much as we can and get him out and running,” Boike said. “He’s strong and has a powerful leg, and I really think he could have a great year.”

Boike thinks that goalkeeping will be another one of Crookston’s strengths. Kaleb Thingelstad (Sr.), who made 220 saves as the No. 1 goalie last season, will return in that role, forming something of a core three with Dragseth and Kiel.

Behind that core, there are talented young players as well. Last season’s JV team went .500, and many from that team should be ready to contribute to the varsity this year. Boike pointed to his son Caden, Blake Melsa, Ashton Shockman and Brannon Tangquist as examples. Meanwhile, defender Thor Harbott (So.) has varsity experience already, having been named last season’s co-Rookie of the Year.

With the Pirates’ first game on Sept. 1 against Pelican Rapids, the main focus has been getting in shape. Many players did little between March and August due to the effects of COVID-19, and with the move of football to next spring, a handful of football players are playing soccer this fall looking for something to do. At present, this is still a team very much in flux. Boike expects all of the Pirates’ seniors to start, but isn’t sure where or beyond that.

Boike does see the long term. He admits that most opponents don’t see Crookston as a “real soccer power,” understandably so. But with young talent on the rise, he sees a possible path to becoming one someday.

COVID-19 threw a wrench into some of those long-term plans. Getting kids to come out during the summer. Traveling. Playing in tournaments. Those are things that Boike had hoped to do this summer, but couldn’t.

But at the very least, the Pirates have a solid finish to last season that they can bank on. Doing so will be their first step for now.

“The kids that have returned understand how we left the end of last season,” Boike said. “If they come in with the mentality of, ‘OK, this is what we gotta do to win games’ and continue to push themselves, that will help. … We have the ability, and they have to believe in themselves and keep working hard, and I think we’ll be competitive.”

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