The fall sports season kicked off with practices a couple of weeks ago, and boys and girls soccer teams hit the ground running toward what they hope will be stellar seasons.
Cloquet-Carlton girls soccer
The Lumberjacks nearly ran the table during the regular season as they finished with a 15-1 regular-season record and eventually fell to North Branch 2-1 in the section championship game.
Among the key losses from last year's squad: goalie Brandi Nelson, midfielder Erin Turner and defender Anna Gunnelson. In all, Cloquet-Carlton lost five players to graduation after last season.
Despite losing five players, the 'Jacks return a nucleus of players that would have most coaches dreaming about the possibilities. Chief among the returning players are a pair of high scoring front-line players in Kendra Kelley and Kiana Bender.
Kelley, who won the state 200-meter track title, led the state in scoring with 47 goals last season, while Bender had a solid year with 21 goals. That means defenders can't just key in on Kelley or they will face the opportunistic Bender.
"We are returning our scoring duo of Kelley and Bender as well as center defender Payten Schneberger and Lexi Cooke is also returning after missing last fall due to injury," Cloquet-Carlton coach Dustin Randall said. "Our defensive group was strong last year, and minus one, completely returns."
Entering his 10th season, Randall has the good fortune of being loaded with a talented roster from up front all the way back to the goal.
"We will have a young new goalie, but she had a great spring season and is ready to work and is showing lots of promise," Randall said of Gracie Meagher, who is just a sophomore. "We hope to be improved in our midfield this year with a mix of returning players like Jaxie Pogorelc and some hardworking new players like Brenna Mattson."
With the experience of their forwards and a deep roster the 'Jacks are looking to get off to a quick start, and that is exactly what happened in their opener last week.
"We have set our team goals to continue our success from the last few years," Randall said. "We expect to compete for both the conference and section titles."
Esko girls soccer
A .500 record is not usually what the Esko girls soccer team is accustomed to, but that is exactly what happened last year when the Eskomos finished 7-7-3. Don't expect that to happen this year, as the Eskomos are building toward what should be an exciting season.
"We lost to Princeton in a shootout in the quarterfinals of the playoffs," head coach Nicki Peterson said. "We only graduated two players off of last year's team, and we expect to see a number of different players scoring."
The Eskomos will have a couple of seniors paired up with a sophomore up front. Early indications are that Esko will not be one-dimensional when it comes to putting the ball in the net.
"Seniors Terryn McColley and Sydney Hansen, along with sophomore Mallory Sunnarborg, will combine for several goal scoring opportunities up front," Peterson said. "We more than likely will see several girls scoring this season versus being one-dimensional in our attack."
That has been the case already this season as the Eskomos scored 11-goals in the first two games. A total of nine different players have scored already this season.
"We also will be strong at midfield with Kristy DeMuth and Annika Wold combining in that position," Peterson said. "On defense we return four veterans with Tori Vosburg and Brita Mowers at center back in addition to Macy Sunnarborg starting her fifth year in the nets on varsity."
Perhaps one of the biggest keys to any successful season is how well the players mesh. Peterson believes that may be the strong suit of this group.
"We are expecting to be better than we were last year," she said. "We are fielding the same team with another year of experience. These girls are one of the most cohesive group of players I have coached. On and off the field they work hard, remain positive and have fun with each other. It is going to be a great season."
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys soccer
If the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys soccer team is going to come close to their 15-2-1 record from last season, they will have a lot of work to do in finding how all the parts of the jigsaw puzzle fit together.
"We lost some real talent from last year, especially Giorgio Petri in the mid-field and Zach Conklin, who was first-team All-State on defense," CEC head coach Archie Clark said. "As for this year's team, there are a lot of unknowns."
Now in his 14th year as head coach, Clark has seen it all. He expects the section to be wide open for the taking.
"This looks like one of the most balanced sections in recent memory," he said. "Denfeld, Marshall, Chisago Lakes and Hermantown should be right there at the end, and in conference play, Superior is also a very good team."
Last year, after their outstanding regular season, the 'Jacks bowed out of the playoffs when they lost a heartbreaking shootout at home to Duluth Marshall in the section semifinals.
"We are unsettled at almost all positions except the middle of the back, where Peter Tomhave will anchor the defense," Clark said. "We are looking for scoring from Kade Bender, Andy Acers, Scott Rousseau and Thomas Porter and we have a talented and experienced senior goalie in Dru Senich. Hopefully, we will keep getting better and come together as a team and play our best soccer as the playoffs begin."