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John's Journal: Memories, Brand New Or Decades Old, Are Everything

From Fosston 20 Years Ago To Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart In 2024, Valuable Lessons Are Learned

Posted: Saturday, March 16, 2024 - 5:19 PM




Fosston legend Kelly Roysland Curry meets with the 2024 Fosston Greyhounds (Ryan Hanlon photo).


Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart's Kristi Kottke, Rachel Kottke and Ellaina Bergstrom with coach Jesse Weick

The duties of covering sports on any level can be multi-faceted. Watching competition and reporting on it are certainly major parts of the job, but much more goes into it. You do this work long enough and you realize that what happens before and after games is a true joy. Those of us in this business are extremely lucky to have these life-affirming, positive experiences and the ability to share that message.

I chatted briefly with some of the players involved in this week’s girls state basketball tournament as we crossed paths in the locker room corridor on the subterranean level of Williams Arena. These interactions took place long before game time, and two thoughts struck me: 1) These kids don’t seem nervous at all; 2) If TikTok is banned in this country we’re going to have lots of teenagers who won’t know what to do with their phones.

On Thursday at Maturi Pavilion, shortly before Fosston and Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart met in the Class A state quarterfinals, I chatted with Fosston activities director Ryan Hanlon (he’s a Fosston grad and coach of the Greyhounds baseball team, which won its first state title last year). Ryan, knowing I like a good story, told me what had happened at a team gathering the previous evening.

First, a reminder of Fosston girls basketball history. The Greyhounds had a tremendous run of success two decades ago, winning small-school state championships in 2000, 2001 and 2003. The marquee member of those teams was Kelly Roysland Curry, a 2003 graduate.

One of the best all-around athletes in Minnesota history, Roysland was named Minnesota Miss Volleyball while also leading the Greyhounds to two state titles in that sport. After completing four years of basketball eligibility at the University of Minnesota (named team MVP as a senior), she was a member of the Gophers volleyball team for one season.

Then she began a coaching career that took her to North Dakota State as an assistant, Minnesota as an assistant, Macalester College as head coach, and back to the U of M where she was a member of head coach Lindsay Whalen’s staff. Kelly and her husband Eric Curry have two young sons (Brekken is 6 and Hayes will be 4 next week), and Kelly is enjoying spending time with the boys while Eric is officiating 80-some college basketball games this season.

When this year’s Greyhounds team made it to state in basketball, it was the first time for Fosston since 2006. There is a link between the 2024 Greyhounds and the Greyhounds from the glory years, and that link is Kelly Roysland. She met with the team at their hotel on Wednesday evening.

“It was pretty spontaneous,” Kelly told me Friday afternoon. “I was really bummed that I couldn’t make their games, and it’s been a while since they made it to state. The community was so great when I played in Fosston and you never forget that.”

She contacted Hanlon, asking where the team was staying and wondering if it would be OK to drop in and see them before she left town the next day.

While Kelly and I talked on the phone, I was sitting courtside between tournament sessions at a quiet Williams Arena. She was enjoying the quiet of a hotel room in Las Vegas (a rare instance: “Las Vegas” and “quiet” in the same sentence), where Eric, one of the top college basketball officials in the country, was working the Mountain West Conference tournament.

I have known Kelly since her high school days and we connect every so often. This time, she told me about her kids and I told her about my grandkids.

Before meeting the Fosston team Wednesday night, Kelly picked up treats from Nothing Bundt Cakes for the players and coaches.

“I wanted to say good luck in person and I didn’t want to disrupt any routines,” she said. “A few of the girls know who I am, but I played before they were born. I wished them luck, gave them a few insights into my experience. I asked them if they would share their name and the superpower they bring to the team. It was neat to hear their answers. That was fun.

“I followed Fosston this year but didn’t know the players well. I kind of talked about the state tournaments in which I played, some of my most joyful memories. I mentioned that regardless of seeds and whatnot, when we played we expected to win. I encouraged them to go in with that same mindset, and when they were doing warmups and sitting on the bench to take a deep breath and take it all in. You never know when these moments will come around.”

Now let’s move to earlier Friday and the Gophers men’s basketball team meeting room at Williams Arena. That’s where postgame media sessions are held during the high school tournaments, with head coaches and several players sitting at a table in front of reporters.

The girls team from Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart was playing at state for only the second time ever and the first time in 14 years. They beat Fosston in the quarterfinals before losing to defending state champ Mountain Iron-Buhl in the semifinals Friday. The school (9-12 enrollment of 127) is in Hector, which is on Highway 212 … or between Glencoe and Olivia if that helps you place it.

It's no shock when players who just came out on the short end of the scoreboard are disappointed. Fourth-year BLHS coach Jesse Weick and the Mustangs seniors, twins Rachel and Kristi Kottke and Ellaina Bergstrom, spoke with the media and it was remarkable. There were some tears, yes, but there was also perspective and pride. Lots of pride.

This was a team that few people had heard of from little towns that many people have never been to. But there are ties between the teams from Fosston – past and present – and what the Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart kids have built.

Not long ago, BLHS was not at all known for girls basketball. The Mustangs were 19-6 in 2019-20 and 12-6 in 2020-21. The tide began turning in 2021-22 with a 20-7 record, and last year they finished at 25-2.

They finished this season with a sterling record of 29-4, and the players talked about what went into that. Hint: It was a lot of hard work, desire and dedication.

“When we started, we had to be motivated because I don't know if many people knew about us,” Rachel Kottke said. “For the previous how many years it was good if our team even got to like 50-50. There were some years when they would win like single digit games and I feel like that had to motivate us because we're all competitive.”

Rachel, Kristi and Ellaina talked about working on their games, individually and together and overcoming obstacles, about putting up a hoop inside a shed and playing on outdoor courts, all with their goals in mind.

“We always wanted to get to this,” Kristi said. “When we were all in eighth grade we had this vision, but it just never seemed like it was really the year for us. We were kind of thinking we could go last year but a team kind of came out of nowhere and beat us in the second round of playoffs. So for this year to be our year, we kind of stepped into it really confident, like, ‘We can do this. … it's our turn.’ ”

Rachel added, “It all started with motivation, it started with the hard years nobody sees, where we had to watch BLHS be really bad, like almost embarrassing. We wanted something different and we wanted to inspire people, too.”

That’s a key word right there. Inspire. How many little girls and boys around Buffalo Lake, Hector and Stewart watched this team and want to be like them someday? Same thing with Fosston and the players who weren’t even born when Kelly Roysland was a star. How many youngsters in that town have been inspired?

After Friday’s disappointing outcome, the Mustangs closed the season with a big celebration on Saturday, defeating Underwood in the third-place game at Concordia University in St. Paul. Rachel, Kristi and Ellaina accepted the third-place trophy and raised it to the rafters as their teammates gathered around and the fans hooped and hollered. Their community will officially welcome them home at a gathering Sunday afternoon, and you know that will be another special, unforgettable event.

Both Kottkes were named to the TruStone Financial/Delta Dental all-tournament team, and their smiles were sizable as they posed for photos.

As Kelly and I chatted, shortly after the Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart media session, I mentioned how impressed I was with the Mustangs.

“Buffalo Lake is a great example of how you build something and you’re part of this progression,” she said. “You stack the days, the days become weeks, the weeks become years. You can see some amazing progress and that sticks with you. It’s pretty amazing.

“That’s what sticks with me about my experience at Fosston. The state tournaments are great memories for me, and all these young women are going to remember this, playing on the big stage.”

--MSHSL senior content creator John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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Girls Basketball State Tournament 2024: Class AA Championship