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Soukkala withstands the test of time

Barb Soukkala has been around volleyball so long that when she began playing in 1972, her uniform included a turtleneck.

Perhaps a little outdated in today's game, there's nothing unfashionable about Soukkala's career in the sport.

Recently capping her 20th varsity season coaching at Carlton -- and 36th overall -- with a trip to the Class A state tournament, Soukkala was most flattered when her fans, friends and family members surprised and honored her in October.

Soukkala's daughters, Amanda and Danielle, shocked their mother during the Bulldogs' Oct. 10 home match with Moose Lake-Willow River, when they each spoke, gave a her hug and awarded her an anniversary plaque before an appreciative crowd -- a gesture only fitting for a coach whose stats are unmatched.

Soukkala was a setter for Carlton until she graduated in 1975, then played at the University of Minnesota Duluth before being asked by Elsie Sjodin to coach her alma matter's junior varsity in 1977.

"And I've been here ever since," said the 57-year-old Soukkala. "I've enjoyed every year of it -- every minute of it."

It was 1993 when Sjodin stepped down and Soukkala took over. Since then, she's produced 20-win seasons one after one another, while taking the Bulldogs to their small school's only state tournaments appearances in 2003, 2004 and this year.

She's a well-known physical education teacher, too.

"I think it was first grade when she was my gym teacher," junior middle hitter Grace Macor said.

Macor had 175 kills in Carlton's 26-win season this fall, crediting Carlton's only second-ever coach for her skill growth.

"I don't know any coach who has done anything as much as her," Macor said. "She puts every ounce of her into every day."

"She put in a lot of time with me," added former Carlton setter and 2008 graduate Amber Bloom, who played four seasons at Division II Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D.

Bloom, currently in pharmacy school, returns each spring to coach the Carlton Junior Olympics program, taking after the competitive-stressing practices that she grew up around.

"She's pretty much taught me everything I know about volleyball," added Danielle Soukkala, who played on her mother's 2003 and 2004 state squads as an outside hitter and now assists with her. "I enjoy being with her every day."

Barb Soukkala, nearing 500 career wins, said she'll retire teaching after this year, but isn't sure how long she'll coach.

"When I retire, I'll miss these Carlton kids," she said.

"She's kept the value of this program -- and has turned out quality kids first," Carlton Athletic Director Ryan Schmidt said. "She's kept pace with all the changes."

Even if that