'Dogs 'diggin' their chancesThe Carlton Bulldogs trounced visiting Deer River in a season-opening sweep Tuesday. The 3-0 win — within the steamy Carlton High School gymnasium — was the first since the Bulldogs were disappointedly swept by North Woods in last year’s Section 7A final, one step shy of the state tournament.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
As a little girl, Jessica Stanslaski remembers watching Carlton’s volleyball teams qualify for State.
Now, a big middle hitter, she wants to do it herself.
The slender, 5-foot-10 Stanslaski steadily attacked the net as the junior and her Bulldog teammates trounced visiting Deer River in a season-opening sweep Tuesday.
The 3-0 win — within the steamy Carlton High School gymnasium — was the first since the Bulldogs were disappointedly swept by North Woods in last year’s Section 7A final, one step shy of the state tournament.
That’s why watching them play, their focus is clear.
“Whenever we’re in practice, working hard, we always say ‘This is for North Woods,’” said 6-foot junior middle hitter Grace Macor. “We want to get back there and play them. And we’re hoping to go even farther.”
Those chances are likely, as longtime Coach Barb Soukkala returns five of her six starters from last season’s 22-8 squad, graduating only Clarissa Nelson.
With Macor and Stanslaski securing the net, Soukkala — involved with the program since 1977 — noted Myranda Papesh, Brianna Walton, Hannah Benson and Macy Belich all are back, while Amanda Groth and Delaney Coy will also contribute to a balanced effort.
Papesh is the team’s only senior, but Soukkala has already informed her girls they are not victims of youth.
“She says we can’t play that card anymore,” Macor said, “but she’s right, we’ve all played together for so long. We have high expectations and we all want this.”
Carlton (1-0) won the proverbial Esko summer league title, going unbeaten. That success, mixed with their varsity experience, has led to a confident mindset.
“The goal is the state tournament,” Stanslaski said.
Looking to add to her back-to-back state trips in 2003 and 2004, the Bulldogs coach has faith in her lineup.
“We still have work to do and anybody can always beat anybody, but I’ve told them since they were seventh-graders they’ve had the ingredients,” Soukkala said of State. “And they certainly deserve that chance.”
“I remember watching Amber Bloom and Danielle Soukkala play volleyball when I was little,” Stanslaski said. “Ever since then, we’ve all wanted to go, too.”
Barnum brings back several returnees to their five-win team a year ago, including key seniors MJ Anderson, Lauren Hultgren, Daron Mainville and Sage Miletich under first-year Coach Brooke Anderson, who replaces former coach Corina Newman.
Cromwell-Wright welcomes Amy Granholm as its new coach, following longtime coach Lori Wester. Allie Cahoon and Sam Suhonen are the only seniors returning from last year’s 12-win Cards.
Esko enters the season guided by Desiree DeLeon. The seventh-year coach will look to returning seniors Courtney Johnston, Christaia Houser and Hailey Salo from a 19-9 team a year ago. Six-footer Molly Trapp is also a threat.
Fond du Lac Ojibwe opens its season in September and will rely on a quartet of seniors for Coach Dale Sautbine, now in his 30th season, since beginning the program in 1983.
Moose Lake-Willow River relies on seniors this fall, as seven — including multi-year starter Haley Johnson — return to an eight-win Rebel team for third-year Coach Beckie Jackson.
South Ridge recorded 18 victories last season and returns all six starters for Coach Brad Olesiak, now in his sixth year. Justice Janke and Brad’s daughter, Mikayla, are dual dangers.
Wrenshall will lean on the return of the Swanson sisters, Chloe and Tatum, as the three-win Wrens welcome new coach Keith Small to the tiny program, replacing former coach Andrea Ruth.