With a long-delayed season and the long-awaited chance to defend their 2019 Section 7AAA title and AAA third-place state finish, Cloquet softball is set to return this spring with a roster full of new names and new opportunities.

Head coach Tyler Korby said the team will take the season one step at a time, looking to be at their best as the playoffs approach.

“We’ll get a little bit better each day and we want to be playing our best not in April, but want to be at our best in June,” Korby said. “So we’ve been talking about being prepared for Game 20. We have 19 games in our regular season, we want to be best at Game 20 when the playoffs begin.”

While Cloquet will have a large wave of new players in its varsity team this season, Korby said the incoming talent is something to celebrate.

Cloquet will look to build around a series of experienced players, including seniors Amanda Paul, Morgan VanReese and Brenna McClarey and juniors Dana Jones and Brynn Martin. Paul and McClarey are a left-handed pitcher and catcher, respectively, bringing consistency to Cloquet’s battery, while Martin, VanReese and Jones are set to be key players in the outfield.

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VanReese, McClarey and Paul will also serve as the team captains this season. With all three looking forward to the chance to repeat or improve on their sectional and state finishes in 2019, Paul noted that representing Cloquet at this stage continues to be an honor for the whole team.

Cloquet’s Amanda Paul warms up her pitching arm during practice at Cloquet Middle School on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Cloquet’s Amanda Paul warms up her pitching arm during practice at Cloquet Middle School on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

“I’m proud to wear the Cloquet jersey knowing I’m playing for something bigger than myself," she said. "The community within Cloquet is an extraordinary one, and that makes me proud to be a part of it.”

VanReese and McClarey also added the value of the community surrounding the team, and their joy in being reunited with the staff and players.

Korby said that juniors Justice Paro, Sophie Diver, Bailey Reynolds and Emi Brown will be developing their place in the team this season. He also highlights an exciting sophomore class, which includes Roena Diver, Jordyn Sorenson, Lexi Goranson, Ashley Austin and Cloquet-Esko-Carlton hockey goaltender Araya Kiminski.

“It’s been fantastic to get back to it and the girls have been filling the roles nicely,” Korby said. “It’ll just be nice to get out and play … I know the girls are really itching to get out there because it’s been quite a while since they’ve put on the purple and white.”

Korby is new to the head coaching position, earning the position in February. However, he brings experience having served as an assistant softball coach for the team from 2010 to 2017, in addition to roles in the volleyball and basketball programs at Cloquet. He is also the club director of Minnesota Blast.

Korby will be joined by a staff of several assistant coaches, which include players with collegiate experience.

“It’s a dream job for me, just a dream job,” Korby said. “I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to head this program and head a culture here that we want to continue for many years.”

Korby, who was raised in and graduated from Cloquet, stands by the fact that both results and mentality will be important to the team. The Churchill Elementary teacher emphasises that, for him, the game is also about culture and community.

“If the girls are having fun, they’re learning about the games, and they want to come back each day, we’re doing something right," he said. "I’m (also) going to hold these kids to a high standard.”

The Lumberjacks are scheduled to host Hibbing at 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 19.

Cloquet’s Dana Jones is ready for another pitch inside the batting cage during practice at Cloquet Middle School on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Cloquet’s Dana Jones is ready for another pitch inside the batting cage during practice at Cloquet Middle School on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)