Story by Shawn Smith (UMC Sports Information Director)-
The University of Minnesota Crookston Athletic Department currently has six student-athletes from Fertile, representing three sports, with the women’s golf program having three Fertile-Beltrami High School grads competing on the team.
The Golden Eagles, coached by Head Coach Bryant Friskop, currently have three student-athletes from “The Flower City”, a town known for its sand hills and pristine farmland. Marlee Steffes, Camryn Larson, and Anna Olson all grew up in Fertile, and have known each other for most of their lives. Marlee and Camryn have been best friends since grade school, while Anna and Camryn got to know each other through Future Farmers of America (FFA) and high school golf. All three have loved the opportunity they have gotten at Minnesota Crookston to pursue an outstanding education and get the chance to play golf with people they have known for most of their lives.
Camryn and Marlee first met in Kindergarten in Fertile, and they have been inseparable ever since. Though they weren’t always in the same sport, they would find ways to support each other no matter what the other one was doing.
“We have been best friends since early elementary,” Larson said. “She was in softball, I was in golf. She would come with me on the golf course if she wasn’t practicing. We golfed on weekends. It was something that we did together just for fun. There was no competition between us. She lives close to the golf course, so it always helped that she was right there whenever I went to the golf course. It was nice when she joined the team because it was someone else that I was able to talk to that I knew and got along with.”
Olson is a year older than Larson and Steffes, but they both knew of her through their small community in Fertile. Larson got closer to Olson as they grew to be in middle school and high school and both had an interest in FFA and golf.
“Camryn and I were in the same grade so we have always been really close,” Steffes said. “Anna is a year older than us, so we have known each other from growing up in a small town. Everybody knows everybody. We all have been close ever since we were little. Growing up Camryn and I were best friends. We even came to Minnesota Crookston together. We lived together our first year. We have always known each other and it has always been a close little group of us.”
“It was probably not until her 10th-grade year and my ninth grade year when we started playing varsity golf together,” Larson said of when Olson and her first became close. “We spent more days together. With FFA, I got more involved in that and she was extremely involved in that. Most of my high school revolved around the FFA. Anna was always that person that I looked up to.”
Larson has always looked up to Olson and it is a big reason that when Friskop came calling for a chance to play women’s golf at Minnesota Crookston, she looked to Olson to take up the sport, as well.
“I would not have done the experience if it wasn’t for Anna,” Larson said. “I told Anna when Bryant (Friskop) was talking to me that I would sign with him if she does. And the week after she joined the team, I decided to sign. She was already a year in. We both kind of convinced Marlee into it, as well.”
Steffes took more convincing as she only played golf recreationally. She grew up near Sandhill River Golf Course in Fertile and had grown up either working or playing golf at the course nestled on the banks of the Sandhill River. However, she didn’t take up golf seriously until she was approached by Larson and Olson at Minnesota Crookston, as the program was looking for another golfer and she was the first person that came to mind for the pair. Steffes is the daughter of Fertile-Beltrami boy’s basketball Head Coach Neil Steffes, so she had grown up around sports playing basketball, volleyball, and softball. But it wasn’t until that fateful stretch of days that her golf career officially began.
“Growing up we were on the golf course a lot,” Steffes said. “We live right next to it. My dad works here and my sister and I work at the golf course, as well. We are on the course a lot either working or playing. I was never interested in golf all that much. I just did it for fun or if I had nothing to do, this is where we came. Spring of my first year at Minnesota Crookston, Anna had texted me that they were in a bind and that they needed a person. I was the only one they could think of. I was like ‘well I am bad’, but I talked to Bryant (Friskop) and things just happened and I joined the team.
In contrast to Steffes’ journey to golf. Both Olson and Larson had played high school golf and had been pursuing golf for some time. Olson’s golf journey began in summer rec leagues when she was in first grade. It was originally pushed somewhat by her parents, but she eventually grew to love the sport.
“I started with golf in summer rec when I was in elementary,” Olson said. “My parents wanted me to have a lifelong sport rather than running track or playing softball. So that is why I started golfing. It definitely was not love at first swing. My parents kind of pushed me to be in it and once they found out that I was okay at it, they just kept pushing. I stuck with it and it has turned out very well for me.”
Olson pursued it through her prep years at Fertile-Beltrami H.S., but she never thought that she would continue playing college golf. She was already at Minnesota Crookston, when Paige Weakley, who played women’s basketball and women’s golf, approached Olson about continuing the sport she had played back home in Fertile.
“I definitely did not see myself golfing in college,” Olson said. “I knew one of the men’s golfers my freshman year and he had said that they were looking for more women’s golfers. He talked to me about it. Paige Weakley, she was on the team and she found out that I played in high school. She talked to me and then I met with Bryant. The rest is history from there.”
Larson’s journey on the golf course began when she was in eighth grade at Fertile-Beltrami H.S. She had gone out for the sport with a couple of friends, but she kept on golfing while her friends dropped out of the sport.
“I started golfing my eighth-grade year of high school actually and I just started with a couple of friends and they ended up dropping out, but I kept with it,” Larson said. “Anna and I got along with FFA and golf brought us closer. I liked Anna and I liked my other teammates. It was something enjoyable that I was able to get out of school for a little bit and do. Golf is nice because it is something you get to do alone yet together. You get to meet new people and get to know them on more of a personal level than just in basketball. You are just competing with them.”
The game of golf has definitely brought Olson and Larson closer. It has gotten to the point now that with similar interests and professional goals in agricultural banking, they joke that wherever the one goes the other will follow. They both currently work at Bremer Bank in Crookston, with Olson just getting on as an agricultural business lender and Larson also working for the financial institution.
“I have known Camryn ever since she was in seventh grade,” Olson said. “It has been a little bit of a rivalry going back and forth. It is always fun. I like to joke with her that she never will leave me alone. She works at Bremer Bank with me. Camryn has been one that has pushed me in golf.”
“We have the same degree and we are going into the same type of career,” Larson said. “We have the same interests. She was always that person in school that was nice to everyone and you wanted to be friends with her. She was just that person to me and we ended up getting along and we are still friends. We always joke that we can’t get rid of each other. Wherever I go to work, they better have a position for her open.”
All three young ladies would not have pursued golf at UMC without one another. It has brought them all closer together and it has calmed each of their nerves having their friends by their side as they pursue collegiate golf.
“It definitely makes the experience way better,” Larson said of getting to play golf with two friends from Fertile, “It makes me more comfortable and it doesn’t make me nervous. Even in high school when I was nervous I always went and talked to Anna and she would calm me down and make me feel better. It makes being away even better. I am a homebody and so is Marlee and so is Anna. We all are. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of us end up back in Fertile. It just makes it so much more comfortable. I would not have done the experience if it wasn’t for Anna.”
“It definitely helped with all of our comfort levels,” Olson said. “Since golf is such a mental sport it calms us down that we have someone that we are actually comfortable with. We are traveling with these people that we are actually comfortable with. That has been 10 times better. You really got to see the friendships grow. I was already friends with both of them before, but it is just on a whole new level now. It has been a lot of fun competing with them. It brings my nerves down a lot. I know them very well and they don’t care how I do. Competing with Camryn and Anna has made me very relaxed and has been a lot of fun.”
The three have thoroughly enjoyed their time under Coach Friskop, who they all believe has been a great coach. He has made it a fun experience and has helped to take the pressure off all the golfers for the Golden Eagles.
“Bryant is great,” Olson said. “He is always working to keep our mentalities up. Golf is such a mental sport. If we are struggling, he comes and takes our minds off of it. He is not super aggressive when we are struggling, like other coaches can be. He is always very supporting and super fun to be around.”
“I love Bryant as a coach,” Larson said. “He is an amazing coach. He is nice to us and respects us. He understands us. I don’t know if we had a different coach if it would be as comfortable. Having Anna and Marlee, it just adds to the experience. Bryant enjoys the girls from Fertile. He will be sad when we are all gone.”
Through the car trips around the Midwest and the flights to Nevada and Arizona, the trio have all bonded through golf during their time at Minnesota Crookston. Steffes and Larson have been lifelong best friends but they have made even more memories together through golf at Minnesota Crookston, along with even more experiences shared with Olson.
“It is really nice that I have a best friend that I have had for so long, that we can keep going and do something that we both enjoy together,” Larson said. “It has been fun to see her develop and start to love golf as much as I do. It is fun to see how much she has grown from it and how much experience she has been getting and how good she has been getting.
“The car rides are what stands out the most,” Olson said of some of her best memories playing golf at Minnesota Crookston with her friends. “Bryant, our coach, is so good at keeping the car rides entertaining. Those are always so much fun. I always roomed with Camryn and Marlee wherever we went. We have built a bond over that. Traveling to our further destinations, it is just fun to share that experience with them.”
“It has been very fun traveling to places that we have never been like Las Vegas and Arizona,” Steffes stated. “It has been fun to travel with them and see them do what they love to do and be there to support them.”
All three of the young ladies have also enjoyed the education they are receiving at UMC. The small campus and one-on-one interaction they get with their professors have made the experience great for the trio. In addition, they have all loved that they are so close to their friends and families back in their hometown of Fertile.
“In ninth grade I kind of put my mind on attending Minnesota Crookston,” Larson said. “They have the major that I wanted and it is close to home. It is a small campus. I could not have gone to a big college. I love the size and I love that my classes are so personal. I know all of my teachers. My professors in my major classes, I know I can go and talk to them any time I need to. I am in their offices all of the time. It just helps that it is a small campus and they get to know me as a person, and I get to know them. It makes the classes a lot easier that I can go to them if I have any questions. It definitely makes the whole college experience better because I don’t have to stress as much. It is nice to have a small campus that is so personalized to majors and people and you definitely wouldn’t get that at other colleges.”
“With Minnesota Crookston being so close to Fertile, it is really nice being able to see my family all of the time,” Olson said. “They are able to come and support me. If they are in Crookston for groceries, then we are able to meet up for lunch. That is super nice. My favorite thing about Crookston, I know this is Minnesota Crookston’s main thing, but small class sizes really change everything. That one-on-one time with your professors, and that your professors actually know who you are. They will wave at you in the hallway even if you only had them one time. It is super nice.”
“I am a health science major with a minor in chemistry,” Steffes said. “Overall being a student-athlete, professors are really good about supporting you. They give you time to work. Everybody is really good about it.”
They all have their separate career paths ahead of them. Larson and Olson might find themselves in similar places with their pursuit of agricultural business. Steffes is looking to attend optometry school after she graduates in the spring of 2021. Larson will finish up this fall at Minnesota Crookston, but she will walk next May in order to cross the stage with her lifelong best friend Steffes.
Though their time playing together has come to an end with Olson graduating this spring and already starting her career as an ag business lender at Bremer Bank, the trio is sure to have memories for years to come of their experiences playing college golf at Minnesota Crookston.
“Having another thing in common that we can all do together has made all of our friendships together and individually a lot more comfortable,” Larson said. “I know that I definitely will always have them there if I need anything. We have a lot of connections to each other.”
From the tight-knit community of Fertile to Minnesota Crookston, all three young ladies have grown as individuals and golfers and have loved their time as Golden Eagles. Though their time together in the sport of golf has come to an end, they will surely continue to make memories together and will always be able to look back at their time at Minnesota Crookston as collegiate golfers with fondness.