'Jacks use speed, strategy to keep winning
Life is good if you're a high school soccer fan around these parts — and especially so in Cloquet, Esko and Carlton.
The CEC boys team is off to a flying start and the Cloquet-Carlton girls team improved to 8-1 on the season with a 2-1 victory at Duluth Marshall on Saturday.
The team got goals from its two top scorers — Kiana Bender in the first minute and Kendra Kelley in the 60th — and held on for a road win against a good team.
"Marshall is well-organized and a solid team," coach Dustin Randall said. "But we scored quickly, which is something we're good at doing, and we ground out a win."
Randall has the luxury of what he terms "two high-end forwards" in Kelley and Bender. Kelley has already scored 20 goals while the team has outscored opponents 36-12. Kelley's totals topped the state charts as late as last week.
"Kendra is fast, as everyone knows," Randall said. "So it's interesting to watch other teams put two and sometimes three players on her and then we watch Kiana (Bender) go to work."
Kelley's speed allows her teammates a number of different ways to get her the ball in space.
"If teams play a high line on defense, we can put the ball over the top and let her run onto it," Randall said. "If they play deep, we can play it into the channels. And, of course, Kiana is also a threat to do the same things."
Cloquet's only loss was a 1-0 setback to Esko (5-1-3) in the season's third game. "Nobody defends like Esko does," Randall said. "There are some good teams and good competition around here for us, but we're looking forward to Saturday and getting to the Twin Cities."
After a Thursday matchup at Proctor (3-6-2), the girls will hit the road for a game at Henry Sibley (3-4-1). The Warriors represent a step up in school size.
"That's important for us in terms of QRF (the computerized rankings that determine section seeding)," Randall said. "If we go there, play well and beat a bigger school, we'll get more points."
As of Wednesday morning, Cloquet-Carlton's QRF score was ninth in the state in its class, thanks in part to wins over Forest Lake, Tartan and Chisago Lakes Area, all bigger schools.
Randall says expectations remain high for his team, but then, they should.
"We've finished first or second in the conference over the last few years and we've had a top-half section seed as well, so there's no reason to think those goals are unrealistic for this season too," he said. "But this is a strong section we're in, so we can't take anything for granted or take anyone lightly."