GIRLS SOCCER: Lumberjacks, Eskomos end deadlocked
When you see a girls high school soccer game finish in a 1-1 tie, one might think the contest was perhaps a little dry, lacked entertainment and -- maybe in our fast-paced day and age -- didn't have enough scoring.
When you see a girls high school soccer game finish in a 1-1 tie, one might think the contest was perhaps a little dry, lacked entertainment and - maybe in our fast-paced day and age - didn't have enough scoring.
Yet, when Cloquet-Carlton and Esko meet on the pitch, scoring a ticket is always worth every penny.
The same was true Tuesday when the Lumberjacks and Eskomos engaged for the first of their two annual meetings each season, as a sunny Bromberg Field saw host Cloquet-Carlton and Esko earn a 1-1 draw where 90 minutes of soccer wasn't enough to settle things.
With these two schools separated by less than five miles, the close game wasn’t a surprise as, over time, each has had its moments of brilliance. Each team has beaten the other, some years when expected and others when not. Nonetheless, it's a must-see meeting.
"These teams are always tight," said Cloquet-Carlton coach Dustin Randall, entering his eighth season as head coach. "It doesn't really matter who expects to win, these ones are always a battle."
Specifically in the girls soccer world, kids start by playing together locally and, as they age, move to play on teams against one another. While it has created a rivalry that players and fans always want to see, that competitive edge is followed with respectful handshakes afterward. Some players are close friends and others know many, if not all, of their opponents' players very well.
Such is the case with Cloquet's Kendra Kelley and Esko's Macy Sunnarborg. The pair of sophomore friends created the biggest highlight of the first half Tuesday when the speedster Kelley broke free seeking a goal before Sunnarborg sprawled out to stuff her. The save was impressive to put it lightly, but the rebound wasn't corralled until the Lumberjacks' Brittany Bushman put it in the back of the net to start scoring in the 25th minute.
That score held up and through halftime. Then Esko senior Lindsey Lilliberg evened things at 1-1 when she got past Cloquet-Carlton netminder Brandi Nelson with just eight minutes remaining in the 72nd.
End of regulation soon came after, and a five-minute overtime and five-minute double-overtime weren't enough to settle this series. For now, a 1-1 deadlock will have to do until the teams meet again Oct. 11 in both their regular-season finales.
"It's always been a great rivalry," said Esko coach Nicki Peterson, taking over for Jeff Emanuel in her first season back since last coaching the team in 2012 for eight seasons. "It's one of those games where they bring their best foot forward and they definitely did that tonight. A lot of our games against Cloquet end in ties because it's hard for either side to want to lose."
Neither team lost Tuesday, as the goalkeepers kept busy in keeping things even. In total, Sunnarborg stopped 17 shots, while Nelson netted nine saves.
Randall noted his Lumberjacks (2-0-2) were playing their fourth game in five days and although still early September, haven't played their best soccer as of yet.
That could be a scary thing when it happens, as a majority of this group played for Randall this past summer, winning their 18-and-Under division of the Schwan's Cup, the largest soccer tournament in North America, and defeating teams from Mexico and Canada along the way.
Randall said Kelley could put up numbers like last year’s graduate and two-time Duluth News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year Kayla Baker, who netted 75 goals in her four years in purple. Mix Kelley with the likes of seniors Alysha Anderson, Rachel Hammond, junior Erin Turner, sophomore Lexi Cooke and a crew of other talented sophomores and freshmen, including Kiana Bender - who scored 30 seconds into her first varsity shift - and Cloquet-Carlton can cause panic for their opposition.
Randall admitted his team had some opportunities Tuesday, but couldn't convert.
"We couldn't quite click completely together," Randall said. "It's going to take some time and we have to put in the hours.
"But it's probably the most potential I've had in a team since I started in 2009," Randall continued. "We have a lot of runners. Just a lot of track stars who play soccer. We have a little strength in there, too. It's a nice mix and good, balanced team."
Randall said Kelley has the potential to score like Baker, but even for the two-time state 100- and 200-meter dash qualifier, Kelley was tired after four games in five days.
"I am a little bit," admitted Kelley, who can run 100 meters in 12.2 seconds. "But we just have to learn to work through it and keep the ball rolling."
Esko (2-0) hasn't played as much as its counterparts - games played include a 13-0 mauling of Mesabi East Area - but feel just as confident.
With 11 seniors on the roster, experience is no problem for the Eskomos. Peterson said players to watch along with Sunnarborg are seniors Karlie Kulas, Jackie Erkkila and Selena Shady along with others spread from offense to midfield and defense.
"They bring a lot for us," said Peterson of her senior class. "I like where we're at."
Peterson can say the same about herself. After leaving in 2012, she had twins, Brynn and Alex. Now age 3, the pair of toddlers are old enough to come to practice with their mom, who has always breathed soccer. Assistant coach Alissa Anderson also has a pair of young children who attend practices and games when schedules work right.
"I just have a love for the game, so it's hard to stay away," said Peterson. "It feels great being back. And to do it along with Alissa is just ideal."
Kulas actually played for Peterson as a eighth-grader in 2012 and now again in her final prep season.
"Their enthusiasm for the game shows so much," said Kulas of her coaches. "It's fun having them back. They do a good job of encouraging us and pushing us."
No pushing was needed Tuesday, as the rivalry between the two schools provided plenty of motivation. The teams could even meet in the Section 7A playoffs in late October, as they have in seasons past. If that's the case, Kulas said, buy a ticket.
"I know we're both very competitive teams," she said. "Sometimes it can get a little scrappy, but it's fun to play so it must be fun to watch."