Esko sweeps Cloquet with aggressive net attackThe Eskomos swept the neighboring Lumberjacks 3-0 (25-12, 25-20, 25-16) in a prep volleyball rivalry at Lincoln School in Esko.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
ESKO – At volleyball practice, Esko teammates Amanda Belden and Christaia Houser compete against one another in simple drill called seniors against juniors. While Belden signifies the senior class and Houser represents the juniors, the pair of hitters together creates a winning combo.
Belden and Houser hit their way around Cloquet Monday, as the Eskomos swept the neighboring Lumberjacks 3-0 (25-12, 25-20, 25-16) in a prep volleyball rivalry at Lincoln School in Esko. It was Esko’s fifth straight win in a stretch where they have won all 14 sets.
Belden attacked the net aggressively, finishing with 12 kills Monday, and then the high-flying 5-foot-9 outside hitter had 20 more against Moose Lake-Willow River in another sweep Tuesday. Houser, an inch taller as a middle hitter, collected nine kills and controlled play up front Monday and pounded a dozen more kills on the Polar League Rebels Tuesday.
“You have to know where they’re at on the court,” Cloquet Coach Heidi Anderson said Monday night. “You can’t turn your head for a second, because that’s when they’ll beat you. Christaia and Amanda are fundamentally sound and have played a lot of volleyball.”
Belden and Houser are both part of the Minnesota North Junior Olympics program in the offseason. Each played in Orlando, Fla., over the summer and both have developed their cohesiveness this autumn season.
That showed Monday as Esko (10-3) cruised to an opening set win, fought off a tight second set and jumped out in the third with two hard kills by Belden to begin, and closed late with a pair of key kills by Houser.
“We’re both a little quieter in general, but Christaia and I talk a lot on the court and work well together with our team,” said Belden who, along with Houser, combined for 10 blocks against Cloquet. “We like to score off our quick offense and always want to get points right away.”
“When it’s a smooth pass, set, kill, it’s something we can build off,” added Houser. “It’s great to get that going early. But one thing I like about our team is we don’t get down, but always pick each other up.”
Esko Coach Desiree DeLeon agreed, explaining her team has a well-balanced supporting cast of players who are improving and constantly on the prowl for attacking the net up front.
“It’s not like we don’t know what a tip is,” DeLeon said with a laugh, “but yeah, we do want to hit. The more powerful of a start for us, the better we play. That’s what we preach, but it doesn’t always happen that way.”
Monday, Esko powered towards Cloquet, which struggled passing the ball and keeping their offensive attack organized and consistent.
Olivia Mayasich and Kassidy Steen collected multiple kills for Cloquet (6-7), while Sami Westendorf added 12 digs and Alex Oakes tossed 10 set assists to add with her 10 digs in the cross-county defeat.
Controlling their defense, Esko’s Kallyn Knutson had 11 digs Monday and 14 more Tuesday, while Courtney Johnston had 28 and 35 set assists.
“We did better in the second game, but we spent a lot of the night out of system,” Anderson said. “We gave up too many strings of points and just didn’t pass as well as we can. We were scrambling a bit.”
The Lumberjacks have spent most of season scrambling, battling injuries and lineup changes from match to match and even set to set.
Cloquet will next head to Lake Superior Conference foe Duluth Denfeld Thursday and take part in the Virginia Tournament Saturday, while Esko travels to Carlton for a must-see Polar League match Thursday and participate in the Duluth East Tournament Saturday.
Expect Belden and Houser to practice their favorite drill beforehand.