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Area golf preview: Golfing good anytime, anywhere for 'Jacks

In a tight situation near the green, Brett Morrison usually reaches into his golf bag for his favorite club, the lob wedge. Wedged between sunrise and the first bell at school, Morrison and other members of the Cloquet-Esko boys golf team have be...

Arica Sheff
Cloquet junior Arica Sheff practices her swing during golf practice Tuesday morning. The Cloquet-Esko boys and girls golf teams expect to practice indoors for a while as the Cloquet Country Club is not ready for play due to snow. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal

In a tight situation near the green, Brett Morrison usually reaches into his golf bag for his favorite club, the lob wedge.

Wedged between sunrise and the first bell at school, Morrison and other members of the Cloquet-Esko boys golf team have been bettering their game for nearly a month indoors during early morning practice sessions at Esko's Lincoln School.

"I get up around 6 a.m., but it's worth it -- golf is basically my life," said Morrison, a right-handed Cloquet senior who has been on the varsity team since his freshman season. "I'll do anything to golf, just as long as I get to swing a club."

Morrison and his teammates, along with the girls' squad, have been clubbing balls underneath the direction of first-year Coach Jonathan Horbacz, who replaced Afton Pender. Horbacz, a former four-year varsity golfer at Hinckley-Finlayson High School and now math teacher in Cloquet, noted practices have gone well, despite the early morning schedule.

"It's good to get up early," Horbacz said, adding that he has 26 players, along with 13 girls for Coach Sue Northey for both varsity and junior varsity teams in each program. "It's nice to see those guys and gals hitting some balls with each other and mixing together between the two schools."

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This is the second season the two nearby schools have combined to form a cooperative program. With the Lumberjacks' home course being the Cloquet Country Club, assistant general manager (and assistant golf coach) Matt Carlson described the course as "still covered heavily with snow." He said Tuesday the greens were plowed to remove thick layers of ice, but guessed the course likely won't be ready for play until the beginning of May -- the latest opening in the past 20 years.

Cloquet-Esko has opened up ideas with practice indoors. Horbacz said they hit low-flight balls into nets, as well as chipping and putting drills to go with informational rules meetings led by Carlson. Morrison, who said he's liked practices, added there are yoga and cardio sessions, too.

"I don't know how many more tricks we have left in the bag," said Northey, now in her fourth season coaching the girls with assistant Mary Weets. "We've been making things creative, but obviously we'd all rather be outside."

Once they get outside, Morrison will help lead the boys, along with Zack Strom and George Stein of Cloquet, while Esko veterans Marc Peterson and Nick Neve are also expected to contribute.

"They're up to the challenge," said Horbacz of his players. "Golf is a game of inches -- it's a love-hate relationship. One day you can shoot 75, the next day it can be 100."

Esko's Emily Gustafson -- the only senior in both programs -- can shoot under 100 for the girls, as can Arica Sheff, Katelyn Litke and Morrison's younger sister, Rachel.

"All four of those girls are experienced and have been putting in their time," said Northey, praising their efforts. "We have the most girls playing golf north of Forest Lake."

Moose Lake-Willow River will practice in Riverside Arena until Moose Lake Golf Club opens. Steve Mokros, in his 12th year coaching the Rebels, is optimistic, especially with returning brothers Grant and Gabe Douglas, as well as Trent Autio and Zach Schaumburg. The girls team returns Kayla Larson, Alexis Babcock and Lindsay Loehlein.

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"Both are the reigning Great River Conference champions," said Mokros of his two teams. "We're young, but have experience. They'll step up and are hoping to repeat."

Barnum will sport both girls and boys teams again, after bringing back golf last year for the first time since the early 1980s. With all underclassmen girls, and seniors John Zymslony, Sam Anderson, Kaleb Montgomery and freshman Greyson Lekander back for the boys, Bombers Coach Cullen Franek -- whose team plays at 29 Pines Golf Course in nearby Mahtowa -- said he has 28 total golfers, 11 more than a season ago.

"I think the word got spread," Franek said. "It's a young team, but that just gives them a lot of time to stick around."

Wrenshall's golf program is sticking around, too, as first-year Coach James Johnson takes over for former coach Rick Herman. The Wrens -- which call Carlton's Pine Hill Golf Course home -- will have both boys and girls varsity teams, according to Wrenshall athletic director David Blinn Wednesday afternoon.

Marc Peterson
Esko junior Marc Peterson eyes his shot during practice Tuesday morning at Esko High School. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal

Related Topics: GOLF
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