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Cloquet defeats Esko in five

VOLLEYBALL ROUNDUP *** For Esko volleyball coach Desiree DeLeon, Tuesday's match against Cloquet was simple to explain. "They outplayed us," she said. "That's why they won." It wasn't easy, but the Lumberjacks took down the Eskomos in five grueli...

Junior Maddie Olson of Moose Lake-Willow River (right) hits against Esko blockers in Thursday's high school volleyball action. The Eskomos defeated the Rebels in three games. Matthew Moses/Pine Journal
Junior Maddie Olson of Moose Lake-Willow River (right) hits against Esko blockers in Thursday's high school volleyball action. The Eskomos defeated the Rebels in three games. Matthew Moses/Pine Journal

VOLLEYBALL ROUNDUP

***

For Esko volleyball coach Desiree DeLeon, Tuesday's match against Cloquet was simple to explain.

"They outplayed us," she said. "That's why they won."

It wasn't easy, but the Lumberjacks took down the Eskomos in five grueling sets Tuesday night before a loud crowd in Cloquet. Match scores were 22-25, 25-20, 17-25, 25-17, 15-11.

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"It was a good section win for us," Cloquet coach Heidi Anderson said. "Desi (DeLeon) and I have known each other for many years and we battle well with them. We lost to them in five last year at that place, and it might even have been the same score in the fifth. The teams always compete well; the gym atmosphere is fun; it's homecoming week; the pep band was there for the first time, and the kids know each other from other sports. It's fun."

Especially when you win. After a 2-9 start to the season, Cloquet has won four of its last five matches including an impressive run to the finals at last weekend's Virginia tournament, to improve to 6-10 overall.

Josie Steen led Cloquet with 11 kills, two aces and two blocks. Savannah Sears and Alahna Ninneman each had nine kills. Tess Kavanaugh had 21 set assists, Olivia Diver added 15 more, and Natalie Spath had 14 digs.

For Esko, Hannah Stark had a match-high 18 kills and four blocks, while Marais House had 31 set assists and five digs. Taya Gregg had eight kills and 11 digs, while Dea DeLeon added 16 digs.

Esko (9-8) went 2-2 at last weekend's Duluth East tournament, playing mostly bigger schools. Esko lost to Forest Lake, beat Duluth Denfeld, lost to East and defeated Deer River in the day-long event.

"Forest Lake is a good team and we tend to have a hard time getting going early in the morning like a lot of teams do at these tournaments," DeLeon said. "But any time you play competition as good or better than you are, you improve and that's why you play them."

DeLeon's team is on a search for consistency.

"It's not fun to lose, but we want to be better at the end," she said. "We have moments of greatness, great play, and then we drop to 'not.'"

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Meanwhile, Anderson has led her team to a series of better finishes.

"We tried not to focus on outcomes (during the start of the season)," she said. "But the Virginia tournament was good for us. We built up some confidence against smaller schools and we've been seeing improvements. We really gritted through five sets against Esko."

It's a tough time to play. The end of the regular season is approaching fast, the opponents are tougher and the realities of school are setting in.

"We'll be tested," DeLeon said. "We still play Carlton; they're great, and we have our tournament coming up where we always see good play. We also aren't overlooking Barnum. We have some big games coming up and we have to figure out how to bounce back."

"We played 13 kids against Esko and we needed to," Anderson said. "Traditionally, this last week and this week on the calendar are hard because schoolwork is setting in and the girls are under stress from a number of factors. That can be challenging, especially if you are losing and not playing as well as you would like. We're rising up to it and asking how we got better today."

REBELS SEE MIXED RESULTS

Moose Lake-Willow River fell in three sets to Duluth East on Tuesday night in Duluth. Match scores were 16-25, 19-25, 19-25. Lauren Pederson led the Rebels with 10 digs. DonnaMae Smith had 13 set assists and Jamie Benzie had five kills for the visitors.

The Rebels (9-7) fell to Esko in three sets last Thursday but picked up a 3-0 win at Mora on Sept. 19. That's off a solid performance in the Crosby-Ironton tournament Sept. 16.

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In that event, the Rebels defeated Verndale and lost to Pine-River Backus in pool play. In the championship round, they defeated St. Cloud Apollo in two sets before losing their last match of the day to Hermantown to finish 2-2 on the day.

The Rebels have seven matches remaining in their regular season, starting Thursday night with a home matchup against South Ridge (9-4). That's followed by three road matches in four days next week, starting with a Monday match at East Central (4-11) and a Tuesday tilt at Cromwell-Wright (6-7) before finishing Thursday night at Silver Bay (3-6).

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