Lumberjacks ‘make the most’ of return to practice

The Lumberjack team began gathering for practice last week and coach Dustin Randall hopes games can eventually be scheduled as the state continues to reopen in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ilei Benson (left) tries to beat Mireye Moose to the ball during a soccer practice Monday, June 15, at Hilltop Park in Cloquet. Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal

Cloquet’s Hilltop Park has been open for several weeks, but the soccer fields came back to life when teams started holding practice last week.

The Lumberjack team held a more traditional soccer practice for the first time Monday, June 15, under the guidelines of the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association regarding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

What’s more, coaches from the Cloquet-Carlton varsity team were able to join the team for the first time Monday. They were unable to be with the reigning Section 7A champions — most of whom were practicing — until this week because of Minnesota State High School League restrictions.

The players still couldn't engage in full team scrimmages, and the team was divided into smaller groups that did mostly one-on-one drills.

Still the team was glad to be back on the field after months apart.


Coach Dustin Randall chats with his team during a practice Monday, June 15, at Hilltop Park in Cloquet. Randall hopes to eventually schedule some games for the team this summer, but the decision ultimately lies with Gov. Tim Walz and the MYSA. (Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal)

“Our team has been together just because we're all like such close friends, but it's so bad to get back and play soccer,” Katie Turner said. “You really don't even know how much you miss playing ‘possession’ until you can’t do it. Every fall practice and we're all like, ‘Oh, Randall says possession?’ Now it's like ‘oh, yes.’”

“Possession” is one of coach Dustin Randall’s less popular fall drills, but if it gets them out on the field with their friends, the girls said they would be ready to go.

The team has made other adjustments to make practice more safe and reduce contact between players. Between each practice segment, a coach gathers the balls and wipes them down with sanitizer before the team heads back out. In addition, each player has their own assigned penny — temporary jerseys to help distinguish teams during practice — instead of trading them as they come on and off the field.

Cloquet-Carlton coach Bobbie Turner sanitizes soccer balls during a break in a practice Monday, June 15, at Hilltop Park in Cloquet. (Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal)

Randall told the group that he is “committed” to getting some games scheduled later this summer, but it really is up to the MYSA and Gov. Tim Walz.


“A lot of it is out of our control,” Randall said. “The association has certain phases that go hand-in-hand with the governor’s. As we progress through those phases, they’ll open up things that are available. We'll just follow along with those and do our best to follow these guidelines and hopefully, we'll get to something that does look like a typical soccer season.”

Cloquet-Carlton went to the state tournament in 2019 and hopes to make a return trip this fall. They will have some holes to fill, especially with 2019 All-Area Player of the Year Kiana Bender playing softball at Minnesota-Duluth next year.

“We're all super good friends and we’re even better playing soccer,” senior Brenna Mattson said. “We have to make the most of what we're given right now — it's not ideal for anyone but at least we can get out and play soccer.”

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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