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Young CEC can't be overlooked

Coach Archie Clark watches as Domenico Tomaselii and Richmond Seju demonstrate a new drill to the soccer team on a hot Tuesday morning at Hilltop Park in Cloquet. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 4
Teammates Ben Pietsch (white shorts) vies for control of the ball with George Stein during a drill at soccer practice Tuesday morning. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal2 / 4
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Although several inches shorter and a few pounds lighter than his older brother Landen, Brandt Straub has become accustomed not to his elder sibling's forward position in soccer, but rather, as a barrier in the last line of defense.

"I'm a lot more natural at stopping than scoring," laughed Brandt, a second-year varsity defender for the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys soccer team. "But Landen has helped a lot. He has turned me into the player I am."

Straub, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound Cloquet senior, is a player the Lumberjacks will look to for leadership this upcoming season. Named a captain along with fellow seniors Ben Vuicich of Cloquet and Alex DeRocher of Esko, Straub seeks to help balance a young CEC team.

"He'll really anchor us," said Coach Archie Clark of Straub. "He's the backbone of us."

As Straub secures the backfield, Clark said Vuicich and Cloquet's Robbie Sobczak will maintain the midfield, while DeRocher will also help control the ball's possession.

Clark, in his ninth year with the Lumberjacks, said he has 21 players on the varsity team, and 21 more on the junior varsity after cuts. He noted he's seen a good mix of senior leadership and skilled talent throughout the entire team.

"The boys have really been working hard," Clark said. "We've had some really high-level scrimmages already."

Exhibitions against Mahtomedi, Champlin Park, Minneapolis Washburn, and most recently Hermantown Monday have been helpful eye-openers, Clark explained.

"Soccer can be a contact sport without having a foul -- and we got pushed around a bit," Clark said. "But that's been good for us so far. We've played against some real strong double-A schools and have been competitive."

DeRocher -- who, like many CEC teammates, spent a lot of time in the weight room and playing for the Gitchi Gummi soccer association in the summertime -- said he's excited for his third and final varsity season to start on Friday.

"We just have to work on some of our tactics and skills, but our team is coming together," said DeRocher, just two seasons removed from CEC's state tournament team debut in 2011 (his first year on the varsity). "We look up to that team. It'll come."

"I guess that's my job to see how things go together," added Clark. "There are no standout teams yet. Ashland is a cut above the rest. I'm kind of glad they're in Wisconsin."