Returning tons of talent, Esko-Carlton is a team to watchThe Eskomos girls soccer team returns nine of 11 starters to a team that traveled all the way to the section finals last year.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
ESKO – While watching her Esko-Carlton girls soccer team scrimmage from the sidelines Tuesday morning at tryouts, Nicki Peterson was all smiles.
That’s because her Eskomos return nine of 11 starters to a team that traveled all the way to the section finals last year.
The bottom line is they’re experienced. And they’re good.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” said Peterson, who had about 45 girls attend tryouts this week. “These girls are definitely ready to go.”
Although Esko-Carlton sports both a junior varsity and C-squad, it’s Peterson’s varsity crew that has everyone talking. According to Peterson, the team’s five seniors will lead that experienced crew.
“These seniors have been a part of this program for a while,” Peterson said, naming Sarah Juntunen, Katyanna Emanuel, Caitlin Lilly, Rachel Ofstie and Alyssa Rodlund. “They’ve been here quite a few years and have really given us some excellent leadership.”
Don’t let the junior class fool you, either. Midfielders Hillary Anderson and Brooke Schramm, as well as defensemen Erika Olson, Mackenzie Carlson and longtime Carlton midfielders Tori Zime and Megan Tomczak are all contributors with varsity time, too.
Considering all that, the Eskomos might just be the favorites this fall.
“These girls have been working their butts off and have done a lot in the off-season,” Peterson said. “Our goal is to obviously be a competitive team, but we’re looking to get down to State.”
Last year Esko-Carlton was one step away from the state tournament, falling to Chisago Lakes Area 3-1 in the Section 7A championship. To get over that hump, their offense needs to improve, the coach said.
“That’ll be a big focus for us,” said Peterson, noting that last year’s team graduated five seniors, including three starting midfielders last year. “We’ll definitely be spending some time there, looking to bring in a little more diversity.”
Last fall, forward Caitlin Lilly was the team’s leading scorer.
According to Peterson, Lilly tallied just over 30 points, including more than 25 goals to help lead Esko-Carlton to an 11-7-1 record overall.
“She’s well-marked in the area and is our best chance to score,” Peterson said. “She’s going to be our go-to player.”
Lilly played for Cloquet her freshman year, but transferred to Esko the next year – which she had to sit out – and went from a midfielder to a forward her junior year.
“In U-8, U-10 and U-12, I never used to score, ever,” said Lilly with a laugh. “But I came here and things just started clicking.”
Lilly, who attended a Midwest Elite camp as well as a clinic at North Dakota State University in the off-season, said soccer is her favorite of the three sports she plays. However, she credits her teammates when she talks about her goal-scoring ability.
“It’s not me, it’s the other people on the field,” Lilly said. “We have some good players and it’s about the whole team, not me. We’re looking pretty good.”
Defenseman Sarah Juntunen quickly agreed.
“We have a really strong team coming back with a lot of veterans and some young talent,” she said. “We have some team chemistry, but I think our leadership will play a big role for us.”
Juntunen is one of four returning defensemen for the Eskomos. Along with Katyanna Emanuel, Erika Olson and Mackenzie Carlson, the four form a strong defensive backbone for the team.
That, along with returning goalkeeper Rachel Ofstie, gives Esko-Carlton a well-polished look already in late August.
“We have a really good system between our defense and our keeper,” Peterson said. “Our entire defense is returning. There is a lot of intensity around here and everyone is always
encouraging each other and |
None more than Ofstie in the net.
When asked about watching her team play from between the pipes, she was quick to respond.
“You get a little bored during games,” Ofstie laughed, “because the ball never comes down to my end. Our defense is definitely there.”
The seasoned goalie feels that if things fall into the right places, it should be a memorable fall to come.
“We have so many senior girls, there’s almost no way we couldn’t make it far this year,” Ofstie said. “I’m hoping that we could make it to state, that’d be awesome. But we’re just taking it one game at a time.”
Esko-Carlton will open its season on the road Thursday, Aug. 25, when they travel to Proctor for a 4:30 p.m. match.