Cloquet seniors boast experience

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Cloquet volleyball coach Heidi Anderson has a problem most coaches would love to have as her team's preseason begins. She has seven seniors, all with varsity experience.

That might make preparation for what's sure to be a tough 2018 campaign just a bit easier.

"The kids are familiar with each other," Anderson said. "You want to play fast at this level and some teams try to play too fast. We do have the basic serving and passing to allow us to play fast and these girls have played together before."

The Lumberjacks finished last season with a record of 11-19 and reached the second round of the section playoffs before losing to eventual state runner-up North Branch.

"We've had a good program for many years and our last couple of seasons were a bit tough," Anderson said. "But you try to learn from it, and (assistant coach) Tyler Korby and I have been through that together. We aren't looking at that negatively but we're figuring out what we learned."

The seniors — Savannah Sears, Ellie Peddle, Natalie Spath, Alahna Ninneman, Teniah Thunder, Josie Steen and Olivia Diver — are being pushed by a talented underclass as well.

"The younger kids have done really well in scrimmages," Anderson said. "They've beaten the more experienced players on a couple occasions and really push them."

One of those young players is freshman setter Emerson Rock, who Anderson says may see some varsity time to spell the senior Diver from time to time. Another is junior Lucy Sinkkonen. Sears is a returning second-team all-Lake Superior Conference performer and Diver has three years experience running the offense.

"We return a lot on both sides of the ball," Anderson said.

The team has had two scrimmage sessions already. They got a look at the northern half of the section in Hibbing on Saturday, aug. 18, and traveled Monday, Aug. 20, to North Branch, where they scrimmaged with eight teams, including the Vikings. On Wednesday, Aug. 22, the team was scheduled to take part in the Lake Superior Conference jamboree.

"North Branch is obviously very tough, but the girls dug in and held their own and I'm proud of them for that," Anderson said. "Volleyball has gotten much stronger in the area over the last couple of seasons."

One of the stronger teams may just be the Lumberjacks.

"Really, this should be one of the strongest teams I've coached," Anderson said. "We're in the mix."

Then it's off to the start of regular season play — at Duluth East on Tuesday, Aug. 28, before coming home to face Duluth Marshall on Thursday, Aug. 30.

Every game will mean something since the section has moved to full computerized rankings for this year's playoff seeding. That means a win at East, a Class AAA school one class higher than Cloquet in volleyball would pay big dividends.

"All our games count for points now," Anderson said. "There are points on the table from the first match out. And playoff seeding, well, it makes a difference."

Cloquet went to a third tie-breaker last year before earning a home seed, then beating Esko 23-21 in the fifth and deciding set of their first-round playoff match.

"Sometimes the margins are pretty small," Anderson said. "Every match is important, but we still stress improvement from each match."

That might be easier too, with a veteran squad.

"This team should be able to do things I've never had a team do before in terms of skill," Anderson said. "I'm optimistic."