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Thunder take to court with local stars

Cloquet alumnus Dillon Johnson passes to a Thunder teammate during Tuesday night’s game against the Leech Lake Tribal College Lakers. Johnson scored 12 points in the Thunder’s 88-75 loss. Jamie Lund/ 1 / 6
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Cloquet alumna Jaiden Cofield and Moose Lake alumna Shaelyn Halverson stretch to reach the ball before the Leech Lake Tribal College Lakers players during Tuesday night’s home game. The FDLTCC women won, their seventh win in six years. Cofield leads their six-player team in each category. Jamie Lund/news@pinejournal.com3 / 6
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CLOQUET—A positive coach, Laura Sylvester usually speaks of her Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College women’s basketball team wearing a smile.

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And after winning on Tuesday, it couldn’t have been wider.

Sylvester, in her second season coaching the Thunder, watched joyously from the sidelines as FDLTCC found its first victory of the winter in a 77-70 come-from-behind win over Leech Lake Tribal College Tuesday night on campus in Cloquet.

The Thunder (1-7), which erased a 10-point halftime deficit on the visiting Lakers, were directed by do-it-all freshman Jaiden Cofield, as the 5-foot-8 forward’s 27-point, 17-rebound double-double was too much, while she also swiped seven steals and was a picture-perfect 9-for-9 shooting from the free-throw line.

Entering Tuesday, Cofield, a 1,000-point scorer from Cloquet, remarkably led their six-player team in each category.

“She contributes so much,” said Sylvester of Cofield, averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds per night. “She has a very good feel for the ball and knowledge of the game. She’s always setting people up and just makes everyone around her better.”

As the sixth-year program with now just seven overall wins gets better, it will do so with a variety of homegrown players.

Along with Cofield, Cloquet’s Drewrez Budreau, Carlton’s Taylor Klassen, Cromwell-Wright’s Ann Collman — all freshmen — and sophomore Shaelyn Halverson, of Moose Lake, are important to the team.

On Tuesday, Halverson helped with 16 points, as Collman and Budreau brought in 13 and 10, respectively, for a hard-working team that Sylvester admitted she enjoys being around.

“They’re a good group — we have so much fun,” she said. “It’s made up of local girls who a lot of people followed in their own communities and are now extending something they love.”

“I like coming here,” added Cofield, a student pursuing nursing who admitted her biggest adjustment to the college game was the 35-second shot clock rule. “I’m actually glad that I did.”

Lumberjack classmate Dillon Johnson would agree, as the fellow freshman is a forward for the Thunder men’s program.

The FDLTCC (2-6) men, back at home with women-then-men’s doubleheaders this Friday and Saturday on campus, couldn’t keep up with Leech Lake in Tuesday’s 88-75 defeat, but fourth-year Coach Damien Paulson remained upbeat.

Sophomores John Zinter of Moose Lake and Wrenshall’s Pat Gustafson are other local players along with the effective Johnson.

“We’re playing better basketball and Dillon is a big part of that,” said Paulson, assisted again by his brother, Travis Paulson.

Johnson, who scored 12 points on Tuesday, said he’s lost 30 to 40 pounds since high school and can now dunk. Despite jams at practice, Johnson has yet to slam it in a collegiate game.

“I’ve never been able to,” he said. “Hopefully I get it down.”