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Wood City Classic comes to Cloquet

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The Cloquet boys basketball team was ranked seventh in last week’s associated press Class AAA poll, but the only thing the Lumberjacks are wishing for this holiday weekend will be their seventh and eighth wins in an unbeaten season.

Cloquet hosts its annual Wood City Classic boys and girls basketball tournament Friday and Saturday at Cloquet High School, with the unblemished Lumberjacks (6-0) a must-see attraction in the eight-team event, starting at 1 p.m. each day.

Minneapolis Edison and St. Paul Central will be the ones to try knock off Cloquet, a team ranked this high in the AP for the first time since the Lumberjacks took third place in the state tournament in 2000, according to Coach Steve Battaglia. Some online polls have them rated as high as fourth.

“I think it’s cool,” said Battaglia, now a ninth-year head coach who, even when he helped lead the Lumberjacks to back-to-back state tournaments in 1997 and 1998, never played on a team that was ranked so highly. “It’s good for the kids — a reward for the ton of time that they’ve all put in.”

Cohesive Cloquet puts its perfect mark up against the fast-paced Tommies at 4:30 p.m. Friday, followed by Saturday’s 6:15 p.m. tip-off with the defending-champion Minutemen, which raced by the Lumberjacks 53-45 a year ago to the title.

Two-win Deer River rounds out the playing field.

Cloquet could field a new look this weekend, with the potential return of senior Dillon Johnson, who tore his left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus playing basketball at Washington Elementary School last May. The 6-foot-4 sharp-shooter said the sideline is “tough, but winning helps.”

“Hopefully I’ll be playing with them,” Johnson, a potential 1,000-point career scorer until injury, said Sunday. “I’m just keeping good thoughts and thinking positive.”

“I love playing with him and can’t wait to get him back,” said junior guard Nate Weets. “It’ll just be another weapon we have. He’s one of our leaders and a solid key to our team.”

Like the boys, the Cloquet girls have teamed up for three straight victories. In fact, all of the Lumberjacks (4-1) wins have been by a combined 10 points, as the heart-rate-jumping team hosts unbeaten Browerville Friday at 6:15 p.m. and Watertown-Mayer 4:30 Saturday. Bemidji is also in the field.

Staying in town for the holidays, sophomore scoring menace Kassidy Steen will play in the event her second time.

“It’s been around a while,” said the 6-foot-1 center.

“It’s fun being a part of good basketball,” added Coach Jeff Ojanen of the holiday tournament. “The boys watch the girls and the girls the boys.”