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Bulldogs down Cardinals, advance to semifinals

Carlton sophomores Alaina Bennett (8) and Taylor Nelson block a shot from Cromwell-Wright sophomoreTaya Hakamaki during Friday night's Section 7AA quarterfinal matchup in Carlton. Dan Saletel/Pine Journal1 / 2
Carlton senior Allysan Hoeffling tips the ball over Cromwell-Wright blockers during Friday's Section 7A quarterfinal playoff game in Carlton. Hoeffling led the Bulldogs with 14 kills in the four-set victory over the Cardinals. Dan Saletel/Pine Journal2 / 2

SECTION 7A VOLLEYBALL PLAYOFFS

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The Auburn Tigers football team's slogan is expressed in four letters: DWWD.

That stands for "Do What We Do," and the Carlton Bulldogs have adopted that slogan for their section 7A volleyball semifinal against North Woods on Wednesday night, as the Pine Journal went to press.

Carlton (23-5) faces Auburn (22-6) in Hibbing for the right to advance to the section finals.

And the Bulldogs know nothing about their opponents.

"Not a thing," Carlton coach Barb Soukkala laughed. "But that's OK. We'll focus on our own game."

Carlton eliminated Cromwell-Wright (13-11) last Friday night in the quarterfinals, with the match score 22-25, 25-16, 25-19, 25-14. Allysan Hoeffling was one of four Carlton players to reach double figures in kills as the Bulldogs overcame early adversity to win.

"Cromwell was a good team," Soukkala said. "But as the game wore on, we started to read what Cromwell was doing; we kept working at it and playing with enthusiasm."

Losing the first game was not optimal from Soukkala's point of view, but she says her team learned from the experience.

"Moose Lake-Willow River did that to us too," she said. "I'd prefer they not go through that — it cuts down on the grey hairs."

Cromwell-Wright coach Amy Granholm was very proud of her team's effort.

"I was very proud of how they came out and performed," she said. "The girls knew they were the underdogs for the match, but they came out with everything they had and proved they were able to compete with their team. The girls used a lot of their energy the first game celebrating the good stuff. They just ran out of steam."

"I'm very proud of this team," Granholm added. "They never gave up when they were down. There were several games where they fought back to win the game or the whole match. They set their goals to always work as a team, and they definitely did this."

Meanwhile, Soukkala said her focus has been on showing the team that it will get the opponent's best shot every night.

"We tell the kids that every team we play will be fired up and we have to play our best volleyball against them," she said.

Soukkala had praise for Cromwell-Wright's defensive game.

"They dug the ball, passed the ball, received serve very well, they're all athletic and they have a good middle," she said. "It was a good match for us to have at a good time to have it."

Ahead, though, is the major goal for the Bulldogs — a shot at Cook County in the section finals.

"They want to get back to a championship game, since they were champs in softball," Soukkala said. "They have that big match experience to draw on."

Carlton lost to Deer River in last season's volleyball section semifinals, so a win Wednesday would clear a significant hurdle for the team.

"I think we're a year older and a year better since last year we only graduated one senior," Soukkala said. "This group of kids that are sophomores have been playing since seventh and eighth grade and they come together very nicely."

"It's old, but we take it one match, one game, one point at a time," she added. "We have some experience from being here last year."

And that experience may provide a significant edge against the Auburn Grizzlies, a team they will have to learn on the fly.

"We'll figure it out," Soukkala said. "In volleyball, teams play a similar defense, it's not like basketball where there are so many different looks that you see. Even in college just about everyone does something similar. We'll just go and play and let our athleticism take over."

And do what they do.

If You Go

Section 7A Championship Game:

Winner of Carlton/Northwoods

vs.

Winner of Cherry/Cook County

6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4

at Duluth Denfeld

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