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Fall rec league builds happy soccer players

Cloquet Team 1 youth soccer player Hazel Houle (top) concentrates on defending her area during the first half of Monday night’s game against Cloquet Team 2. 1 / 5
Cloquet Team 1 forward Jordyn Rahkola (bottom, left) drives the ball towards the net as Team 2 Lexi Nelson attempts to catch her during a brief rain shower. 2 / 5
Roena Diver, 9, (bottom, right) shades her eyes to see as the sun pops out of the clouds for a quick minute. Contributed 3 / 5
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Christian Loeb (bottom, center) shares advice to his younger goal tender sister, Erin Kate, before the start of the second half of Monday night’s matchup. 5 / 5

CLOQUET—Wearing her aqua blue, orange-laced cleats, plastic shin guards and Cloquet uniform, 9-year-old Roena Diver loves soccer, except for playing goalkeeper.

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“It’s too boring — too much standing around,” said the speedy Washington Elementary fourth-grader. “One time I pretended like I had to tie my shoe just so I could sit down.”

Diver’s team, Cloquet 1 of the Cloquet Youth Soccer Association’s 10-and-Under girls division, downed Cloquet 2 in a 6-0 shutout Monday evening at Ed Metter Park in Cloquet, but the final score isn’t the main point.

Flamboyant soccer balls, colorful water bottles and hoards of bags littered the players’ sideline Monday, while the other side was lined with nearly a field-length of chairs filled with supportive parents, grandparents and family members watching closely.

Watching her team succeed Monday was unrelated to an over-the-top, loud coaching style, but rather a calm, instructive one for Stephanie Fredrickson, a person who never played the sport, but has been coaching for about a decade.

“I enjoy it, I really love it a lot,” said Fredrickson, who is assisted by her husband, Derek, as well as Duane Buytaert. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun, and all worth it.”

Fredrickson fields her team well. After giving out yellow pinnies to all players, she conducted their brief warm-ups and announced her starting lineup from her clipboard following the pre-game captain’s meeting with the referee.

Fredrickson’s squad of 11 players had forwards, midfielders, defense and a goalkeeper. Playing time was balanced and everything from sideways-worn pinnies to accidental handballs, coaches made sure to stress correct soccer technique and sportsmanship.

“It’s fun, but we have to be stern with them, too, teaching the girls how to learn to respect their teammates and the players on the other team,” Fredrickson said. “They’ve been great. Last week, even though we lost, they were all smiles.”

Smiles are impossible to avoid in an organization that, according to co-coordinator Leigh Rahkola, includes 42 teams and 449 players in age divisions U-6 to U-13, as well as 10 more squads in Little Net Busters for the 3- and 4-year-olds.

Rahkola, along with Bobbie Conway, was watching her daughter Monday. She said the league is mainly Monday through Thursday from early August until late September at venues all around town, including Ed Metter, Churchill, Hilltop, St. Paul’s Academy amd Scanlon’s Sather Park.

Despite some early-second half rain Monday at the park, the girls never slowed play, sprinting up and down the field with a determination to score and the willingness to learn.

Derek Fredrickson’s daughter Madison, older son Ryan and stepdaughter Shaylah Dotseth all play soccer. He said the sport has come a long way since he was among the first to begin playing recreational youth soccer in Esko back in 1984.

“I was in fourth grade, only about six of us guys played, no games, just kicking the ball around,” he said. “It’s come leaps and bounds since then, but that was a long time ago.”

Although a longtime football and hockey player growing up, Derek noted summer soccer has always had a spot in his heart. Coaching alongside his wife, it shows.

“I help out at practices and games when needed, but we’ve been coaching for about 10 years now,” Derek said. “We teach them a lot of ball skills and how to like the game.”

During the first half of Monday’s game, Cloquet 2 scored an own-goal. Coach Brett Loeb calmly smiled and continued to teach his team of learners. Later his son and assistant for the day, Cloquet freshman Christian Loeb, stood by the net and helped his little sister in goal.

Playing goalkeeper is something 10-year-old Sophie Diver relishes, unlike her younger sister, Roena. Sophie, a member of a 12-and-Under Cloquet team that is still winless early this season, admitted she doesn’t like to run around as much as her wild sibling, adding she loves being in net most.

“Then you don’t lose a bunch of energy,” said Sophie, entering fifth grade at Washington Elementary this school year. “And I also like that you can use your hands.”

Speaking of hands, a hand shake is a requirement in all youth sports, but this league takes it one step further.

On Monday, after wishing their opponent well, all girls and coaches went to third-year referee Kelly Lorenz, a Cloquet eighth-grader, for a deserved handshake after the one-hour game.

“There are so many good things — the cuteness of them, the little comments they make, the ‘oops’ reactions they have — it makes me so happy to know that they learned something new,” said Lorenz, who played for the Fredricksons in the past. “But my favorite is when the little players come over and shake my hand and say ‘Good game’ with a smile.”

Shaking Lorenz’s hand after Monday’s game, Roena Diver said playing soccer is something “super fun” for her.

“It’s my favorite sport,” said Roena, who is also in softball, basketball and gymnastics, “because I get to play with my friends.”

Like any 9-year-old would, Roena said one of her favorite parts after playing is getting ice cream, most nights.

“If it’s the Warming House, I get Superman,” she said.

Sophie, meanwhile, went with “Elephant Tracks” as No. 1.

Fair enough for a pair of soccer-loving siblings who, like most all sisters, disagree on many things.

Including the goalkeeper position.