Athletics: Past fall season proves Pequot Lakes' dominance in girls sports
Going to a state tournament is special for any school and any team.
When Pierz football went to play in the Class 3A State Semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium, the team bus got a police escort through town before starting the more than 100 mile drive to Minneapolis.
For Pequot Lakes, this past fall season saw three of their teams advance to the state tournament. The interesting thing was all three teams were girls.
When the Patriots volleyball team completed their comeback against Park Rapids in the Section 8-2A Finals, it sealed it -- girls cross-country, girls tennis and volleyball all advanced to the state tournament.
For the Patriots tennis team, going to state was new. The 2019 season was the first time Pequot tennis advanced to state and No. 1 singles player Megan Muller also advanced as an individual.
Led by eighth-grader Calia Chaney, the girls’ cross-country team made it to state for the first time.
Lastly, the volleyball team made it back to state for the first time since 1995.
So what is causing the Patriots girls to have such success?
“I think we got good athletes and solid coaching staffs,” Pequot Lakes athletic director Marc Helmrichs said. “For the volleyball team, they have had improvements for years. In cross-country, we have a good mix of kids there and they put in a ton of work. Tennis was similar to volleyball as they have been steadily improving and they were finally able to get over the top.”
The volleyball and tennis teams both have run into rivals that have beat them in the sections.
In tennis, Virginia was the barricade keeping the Patriots from a state appearance.
In volleyball, Park Rapids knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs the last two seasons. The 2019 teams changed the narrative.
For cross-country, Helmrichs mentioned the youth of their team. In 2018, two kids -- Chaney and Rian Zutter -- went to state individually as seventh-graders. This season as eighth-graders they led the charge and got the Patriots to finish eighth in the Class 1A meet.
Looking at Pequot Lakes’ history for the last 25 years, most of the teams making it to state have been girls’ teams. Girls’ basketball has four state tournaments appearances (1999, 2000, 2005, 2011). Girls’ golf was dominant in the 2000s and 2010s making it to six state tournaments (2002, 2003, 2004, 2011, 2013, 2015) and winning two state titles. Softball made it to state in 2013 and 2016 and of course, girls’ Alpine skiing made it to state in 2015 in a cooperative with Brainerd and won the state title. Out of the 34 different state tournament teams the past 25 years, 21 of them have been girls teams.
“I think it makes a difference when you see a program that has been successful,” Helmrichs said. “Little kids see that and they aspire to continue that. I think the younger athletes aspire to be like those kids someday.”
It’s without question Pequot Lakes has set a standard in the area with how well their girls’ teams have performed. This fall proved to be the climax of that.
“I think the success can be contagious and it’s kind of caught on here,” Helmrichs said. “The expectations are now different. I’m sure for our volleyball team they have new goals for next year for those kids who are returning. And you look at those other kids, too, and their expectations are changing.”
It may not be anything in the water or the water tower up in the Pequot Lakes School District, but with three state tournaments already in the fall and the winter and spring seasons yet to come, maybe we will be seeing more Pequot Lakes girls in state as the calendar flips to 2020.