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Prep girls soccer: Cloquet-Carlton faces an ‘unknown’ in Mankato East

The Lumberjacks will play the Cougars at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Irondale High School in New Brighton.

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Cloquet-Carlton's Avery Carlson drives the ball up the field during the Lumberjacks' game against Proctor on Tuesday, Sept. 6 in Proctor. Cloquet-Carlton will play Mankato East in the Minnesota Class AA quarterfinal Thursday.
Amy Arntson / File / Cloquet Pine Journal
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CLOQUET — With just five seniors on the team and 14 of 22 players underclassmen, it would be understandable if Cloquet-Carlton took a step back in 2022.

Instead, the Lumberjacks rallied from a season-opening loss to St. Francis to win 10 straight games and eventually won their fourth straight section title with a 4-2 win over Grand Rapids Tuesday.

In the process, Cloquet-Carlton avenged one of its three losses in the win over the Thunderhawks and are playing some of their best soccer of the year. The loss to the Grand Rapids Sept. 26 was the start of a tough stretch for the Lumberjacks where they went 2-2-1.

“When we started, we had no idea what to expect,” coach Dustin Randall said. “We got going really well early on and the older girls were really carrying the weight. Then we started getting some injuries and maybe we had this overconfidence and we forced some of the girls into some roles. So we hit some road bumps, which in the long run is good, but at the end of the year we were playing really well.”

The Lumberjacks (15-3-1) are unseeded heading into the Class AA quarterfinal against third-seeded Mankato East (19-0).

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“They had some pretty impressive numbers, but we don’t know a whole lot about them,” Randall said. “Their opponents are so disconnected from all the teams we face and even a lot of the metro teams they face, so they are a bit of an unknown in the tournament.”

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Morgan Olesiak runs after the ball during Cloquet-Carlton's game against Proctor on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022.
Amy Arntson / Cloquet Pine Journal

While the Lumberjacks are headed to the state tournament for the third time in four years — there was no state tournament in 2020 — the Cougars are advancing out of their section for the first time ever.

Mankato East is new to the state tournament, but the numbers are intimidating. The Cougars have allowed just seven goals all season and all but four of their wins were by shutout. Perhaps just as impressive is the Mankato East offense, which has scored less than two goals just twice this season, a 1-0 win over Mankato West Sept. 17 and another 2-0 win over the Scarlets Tuesday in the Section 2AA final.

Cloquet-Carlton will certainly have a challenge when they take the field against the Cougars, but after making the state semifinal a year ago, the Lumberjacks know they are in the mix for a return to U.S. Bank Stadium.

“Some of these young girls were really stepping up and that’s just part of the learning process,” Randall said. “It’s certainly not perfect, but we feel like we’ve got a good team and the expectation is we’re going to try to compete.”

Cloquet-Carlton will play Mankato East at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Irondale High School in New Brighton.

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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