’Jacks elude Eskomos, move on to stateEmily Rikkola didn’t miss last Thursday, as the Cloquet senior beat Esko-Carlton goalie DeAhna Kulas in the left corner of the net to lead the Lumberjacks by the Eskomos 2-1 in a shootout in the Section 7A final at a misty Public Schools Stadium in Duluth.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
DULUTH – When she was younger, Emily Rikkola’s older sister, Kaitlyn, was her biggest challenger. Playing soccer in their backyard against a goal-sized wooden kicking wall, the two perfected their kicks for hours.
“One person would play goal, while the other would shoot; it was pretty even,” Emily said of their 1-on-1 matches. “We always practiced out there, working on our shooting. The low left corner was my favorite spot, and [Kaitlyn] was always very encouraging if I missed the net.”
Her big sister watching, Emily Rikkola didn’t miss last Thursday, as the Cloquet senior beat Esko-Carlton goalie DeAhna Kulas in the left corner of the net to lead the Lumberjacks by the Eskomos 2-1 in a shootout in the Section 7A final at a misty Public Schools Stadium in Duluth.
Kristi Konietzko, Carley Esse and Gracie Sinisalo all scored penalty kicks and goalkeeper Kenzie Rathe made a pair of critical saves before Rikkola’s winner sent Cloquet (12-5-3) to this week’s girls soccer state tournament for the first time since 2009. The unseeded Lumberjacks will now face No. 3 Totino-Grace (15-2-2) in a Class A quarterfinal at 5:30 p.m. today (Thursday, Oct. 25) in Roseville, Minn.
Rikkola, a speedy 5-foot-4 midfielder, used her right foot to rifle the ball past Kulas, moments before sprinting to celebrate with her teammates by midfield and, after that, giving high-fives to the student section.
“It’s not that easy to kick those in when everyone is watching and everything is on the line,” said Cloquet Coach Dustin Randall of Rikkola’s strike in the 4-1 shootout win. “Good for her.”
A freshman on Cloquet’s last state team ¬– when Kaitlyn was a senior defender – Rikkola said she didn’t panic when it came time for her to shoot last week. Two days prior, she had scored in a shootout to carry Cloquet past Princeton in the semifinals.
“That one helped me, so I knew not to be nervous, but just calm down,” she said. “We work on shootouts pretty much every day in practice, so I knew I had it. I knew our team could do it.”
Rathe, a 5-foot-11 senior, agreed, as the netminder again looked poised in the net. Sporting eight shutouts this fall, Rathe said she was assured in her teammates, which haven’t lost in extra minutes once this fall.
“I was confident in my shooters; I believed in them and they believed in me,” said Rathe, whose big sister, Kaitrin, helped guide the 2009 team to the girls soccer state tournament as goalie. “I’ll admit, it’s a little rick-rackety and nerve-racking, but we just stick together and keep each other up. We’ve had some bad games, but we’ve stepped up and come such a far way.”
Cloquet freshman Mikayla Baker scored the only first-half goal following a touch pass from leading-scorer Maija Doran in the 19th minute. Kailee Kiminski tied things in the 68th tapping in a rebound off Rathe, as the defending champion Eskomos applied pressure, but were dethroned. Kadee Karkkainen tallied in the shootout, and the team finished 13-7-0.
“For these girls to get to this point was an accomplishment in itself; we started 1-3 and have come a long way,” Esko-Carlton Coach Nicki Peterson said. “I don’t think anybody likes going into a shootout when it gets down to playoffs. [Cloquet] had some great shots and came up with a couple of saves. They’re an athletic, fast group.”
Entering their seventh state tournament since 2001, Randall said his Cloquet team is confident, especially if games need additional time.
“We’re tough to score on and we know that,” Randall said. “But there are some excellent teams in the state of Minnesota. We’ll enjoy this one a little bit, regroup, get back to work and try and make a run.”
Editor’s note: Check the Pine Journal website at www.pinejournal.com for updates on Cloquet’s performance at the state tournament.