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Rival ’Jacks and Eskomos teams play to a draw in double OT

Photos by Dan Saletel/ 1 / 5
Photos by Dan Saletel/ 2 / 5
Photos by Dan Saletel/ 3 / 5
Photos by Dan Saletel/ 4 / 5
Photos by Dan Saletel/ 5 / 5

ESKO—As Cloquet-Carlton and Esko prepared for Tuesday’s girls soccer game, it was evident that both of the neighboring programs had an abundant amount of athletes.

While the players got ready to take the turf field on an afternoon in the mid-80s at Esko Stadium, the Eskomos jam-packed the nearby locker room. Meanwhile, the Lumberjacks had girls all over the pavilion’s entryway, as a mass of kids sat alongside benches and others on the floor while putting on shin guards and cleats.

“It was our biggest turnout for tryouts I’ve ever had,” said Cloquet-Carlton coach Dustin Randall of the near-60 kids who came out for the team. “We’ve got some big teams. We’re a little young, but we’ve got a lot of high-quality players.”

That was evident on both sides, as the Lumberjacks and Eskomos played to a 1-1 tie Tuesday evening in a cross-county contest that is always one the girls get geared-up for.

“We always know the dates of the Esko games,” said Cloquet senior Kayla Baker, who plays hockey with several Esko soccer players in the winter season. “We all know each other. We’re all friends off the field, but on it, it can get a little bit feisty.”

Baker, a fleet-footed forward, was the Duluth News Tribune Player of the Year last fall after scoring 20 goals. The elusive attacker already has five goals in three games this season, although was held to just an assist on freshman Kendra Kelley’s lone strike in the 48th minute on Tuesday.

Baker said it’s not about scoring goals, but scoring wins and making gains with her teammates that means most. She has plenty of help, as seniors Anna Fossen, Jennie Bryant, Ali Chalberg and sophomore Erin Turner will all be vital. Kelley, maybe the fastest on the team, will also be a threat.

“We’ve got a good core group of players here,” said Randall, who returns plenty to a group that went 9-9 a season ago. “I think our goal is high — we have high expectations — but we’re just going to go game by game.”

In Tuesday’s game, Chalberg made eight saves as the Lumberjacks’ veteran goalkeeper. Conversely, between the pipes for the Eskomos again was freshman Macy Sunnarborg, who stopped 11 balls. After all 90 minutes, the evenly-played — and well-battled game, as always — saw Cloquet-Carlton with 12 shots to Esko’s nine in a good fight.

While Randall is in his seventh season with the Lumberjacks, Coach Jeff Emanuel is in year number three with the Eskomos. Although both love the game, Randall is slightly more reserved, while Emanuel can, at times, get loud. For Tuesday’s game, no firing up was needed, as the kids were ready to play their only in-county rivals.

While Kelley marked for Cloquet-Carlton (2-0-1) first, it was only 16 minutes later, in the 64th, when Esko (0-1-1) equalized on a screaming shot via Selena Shady, who — after some defensive confusion by the Lumberjacks — out-muscled another purple defender and blasted it by Chalberg.

Not only does the ultra-athletic Shady kick goals in for the soccer squad, but the Esko junior also kicks for the Esko football team.

“She’s just an athlete,” said Emanuel of his forward, whose goal Tuesday was her first of this season. “I play her at a bunch of different positions and she runs with it. I’m comfortable with her anywhere. She’s a great kid, a great student and brings so much energy. I’m happy to have her.”

Along with Shady comes a bundle more talented pitch players, including Emanuel’s daughter, senior Elle, as well as classmates Lexi Smalley, Rachael Collier, Bailey Pantsar, Kalee Monahan, and junior Ellie Chicos to add to Sunnarborg.

That experience only makes Emanuel optimistic about having his team of 3-13-1 a year ago — which lost seven one-goal games — hungry to swap the tables around.

“We have a lot of girls that we can put at different places and they know the game well enough to handle that,” he said. “I’m hoping we can turn 3-13-1 into 13-3-1. It’s very doable.”

“It’s already starting to look better,” said Smalley, a captain. “We’re pretty confident … and a little older this year.”