Bulldogs fall to North Woods in Section 7A title game
DULUTH – An elementary school student the last time Carlton qualified for the state volleyball tournament, Grace Macor wanted nothing more than to bring the Bulldogs back. It didn’t happen.
Backtracked by their unforced errors, Carlton collapsed in a 25-12, 25-19, 25-20 loss to North Woods in the Section 7A championship match Saturday afternoon at Duluth Denfeld High School.
Since back-to-back state runs in 2003 and 2004, the Bulldogs hadn’t reached the finals until Saturday. The match was never in question.
Carlton committed six errors early in the opening set and the Grizzlies gathered nine consecutive points, then took six more straight points midway through the second in pair of painless wins.
“We had a lot of unforced errors,” said longtime Carlton Coach Barb Soukkala. “I think they were a little nervous. But you can’t coach kids to this atmosphere – the big gym, crowd, noise, pressure. North Woods handled that way better than we did.”
Perhaps that’s because the Grizzlies (23-3) have been in Carlton’s shoes before. Last fall, North Woods was beaten by Cherry in the finals in five sets. Junior outside hitter Destinie Villebrun, who had a match-high 13 kills on Saturday, said that wasn’t an option again.
“We didn’t want to have a repeat of last year,” Villebrun said. “Our main thing was
to stay focused and be
Carlton – which fielded one senior, one junior and the rest underclassmen – got more consistent in the third set but couldn’t hold leads of 12-9 and 17-16. The Grizzlies ran off five of the last six points before celebrating with their large contingent of fans.
“North Woods is a good team, they hit the ball hard and didn’t make many mistakes at all,” Soukkala said. “I don’t think they gave us many free balls. I hope they have a good run down at State.”
The Grizzlies will face No. 2 Minneota in today’s Class A state quarterfinals at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. While this is the first appearance as a new consolidated school, the Cook Little Gophers made 11 state trips between 1987 and 2003, including capturing the state title in 1989.
Carlton, meanwhile, continues to wait their return.
“It’s great to come this far, but we wanted State,” said Macor, a 6-foot sophomore middle hitter for the Bulldogs. “We’re disappointed.”
Lone senior Clarissa Nelson kept Carlton competitive with 15 kills and 11 digs, backing freshman Hannah Benson’s 15 set assists.
“It’s going to be different without her; we’re used to her back there,” Macor said of Nelson. “We wanted State and were super close. It wasn’t our worst game, but it could have been a lot better.”
The Bulldogs finished 22-8, with 10 more wins than the previous year. Soukkala emphasized that growth, including Saturday, meant the most.
“We hadn’t been in the section finals in nine years, so that’s an accomplishment for these kids – especially for how young they are,” she said. “Hopefully they learn for their mistakes and move forward.”
“We know where they’re at, we took second last year,” North Woods Coach Tom Burnett added of Carlton. “It stinks losing the championship game, but they have nothing to be ashamed of. They have nothing to feel bad of or hang their heads about. They have a bunch of young girls that are tougher than nails.”