Esko beats Carlton in the battle of the undefeatedSprinting through the tunnel of teammates, students and fans before every home volleyball match, Carlton freshman Macy Belich gets fired up. Yet, the outside hitter needed no extra enthusiasm for last week. Facing Esko was enough to raise her blood pressure.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Sprinting through the tunnel of teammates, students and fans before every home volleyball match, Carlton freshman Macy Belich gets fired up. Yet, the outside hitter needed no extra enthusiasm for last week.
Facing Esko was enough to raise her blood pressure.
“When you’re about to go up against Esko, your blood gets pumping pretty good,” Belich said. “Some days at practice can get tough, but we then realize that everything we work for and towards is for the Esko game.”
Carlton worked hard against their biggest volleyball rivals, yet fell to the Eskomos 3-1 (25-22, 25-21, 21-25, 25-22) in a vintage Polar League classic before a jam-packed, raucous Carlton gymnasium last Thursday night.
In a match between the Polar League’s final unbeaten clubs, the pair of neighboring schools exchanged blows all night. Taking the first two sets, Esko slipped in the third and later held off the young dangerous Bulldogs.
“They’re always tough,” Esko Coach Desiree DeLeon said of Carlton, coached by Barb Soukkala since she joined the program in 1977. “Barb always seems to have her teams ready. She’s a great coach and she has a good group of young kids who love to play volleyball. It was a good fight.”
Belich, an elusive 5-foot-7 starter in her second year with the Bulldogs varsity, is one of many players in Carlton not yet old enough to hold a driver’s license. In fact, the Bulldogs (13-5) only sport one junior and one senior, while the rest are underclassmen with a passion for the game.
“I think we’re pretty good for our age,” said the 14-year-old Belich, who led Carlton with 14 digs and seven kills against Esko in the four-set defeat. “We’re working as a team and sticking in all of our games.”
Bulldogs sophomore Grace Macor said that competitiveness rose during the summertime when she and her teammates competed in Junior Olympic volleyball around the state, including the Esko League, too.
“We can hang around with double-A teams and hammer some of the single-A ones,” said Macor, a 6-foot middle hitter who had five kills against the Eskomos. “We’re a close-knit team that all know each other well. We have differences off the court, but we always have each other on the court.”
On the court, Carlton has only lost one conference match, while they’ve been strong in tournament play, finishing high at the Crosby-Ironton Invitational and runner-up at last weekend’s Hancock Invitational.
In their lone league defeat last week, Soukkala was honest.
“We could have played better,” she said. “We came out a little cautious early on and became more aggressive late, but by then, we just ran out of time. We’re still inconsistent and have to learn how to push every game. We need to get fired up for the last two weeks and hopefully peak at the end.”
A frontrunner in Section 7A, the Bulldogs have a chance to make a run, DeLeon said. She noted last week was a constant rally with Carlton.
“It was back and forth, really intense and just a good atmosphere,” DeLeon said of the noisy, crowded gymnasium. “They didn’t lay down for us. For the single-A teams I’ve seen, I think they have a shot.”
Along with Belich and Macor, setters Hannah Benson and Brianna Walton combined for 21 set assists and lone senior Clarissa Nelson had multiple kills for Carlton. Esko (12-7), unbeaten atop the Polar League, was led by senior standout Amanda Belden’s match-high 23 kills, while Christaia Houser had 13, Courtney Johnston tossed 25 set assists and Kallyn Knutson added 20 digs.
On Tuesday night, while the host Bulldogs swept Floodwood, the Eskomos lost 3-1 at Duluth East, following a tough weekend at the Greyhounds’ Invitational.
Both teams are back in conference play soon, but each won’t forget the blood-pumping match they had last week, respect present on all sides.
“East is a bigger school, but Carlton is definitely a good team to play,” said Esko’s 5-foot-9 Belden. “It’s probably one of the bigger matches that we have. We always want to beat them. And they always want to beat us.”