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Young 'Jacks team heads to playoffs

Entering his fourth season as head coach of the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls tennis team, Derek Johnson knew this season wins would be hard to find.

With a host of young and inexperienced varsity players, the 'Jacks wound up the regular season with one win and entered the sectional playoffs Tuesday, Oct. 2, with optimism.

"We just told the girls you can't be intimidated," Johnson said. "You have to go out and compete and you never know what will happen."

While the 15th-seeded 'Jacks fell 7-0 to the No. 2-seeded Duluth East Greyhounds 7-0, Johnson was still proud of his youthful squad.

"Despite the results I was proud because our kids battled as hard as they could," Johnson remarked. "East was the overwhelming favorite and they proved that on the court today."

At No. 1 singles, East's Aili Hietala defeated Michelle Jokinen of CEC 6-0, 6-0, while Shay Callaway of East won by the same score over Emma Wells.

At No. 3 singles, CEC's Jessica Liang won two games in the second set, but still fell 6-0, 6-2 to Lauren Aturaliya, and at No. 4 singles, CEC's Marina Dostal dropped a 6-0, 6-1 decision to Catherine Karakas.

"When we started the year, we knew it would be tough to get wins so we really focused on the little things and less about strategy," Johnson said. "We talked about our strengths and weaknesses and worked on improving each week and focused on the basics."

The No. 1 East doubles team of Maggie Payette and Annabelle Humphreys downed the CEC duo of Lexi Norrgard and Kylie McKeon,Cloquet 6-0, 6-2.

At No. 2 doubles, it was Saijal Vacek and Greta Anderson of East taking a 6-0, 6-1 decision over Lauren Maslowski and Addie Loeb.

The Greyhounds wrapped up the shutout at No. 3 singles with a 6-0, 6-0 win by Ally Johnson and Cursta Dimberio over Carlee Maslowski and Alexys Serafin of Cloquet.

"We had 10 first-year players this year, so the improvement from the beginning of the year until now has been fun to watch," Johnson said. "We always talk about the things you can control, such as effort and attitude, and the girls have been tremendous in those areas."

Despite losing out in the first round of team sectional play, some of the 'Jacks will still have a chance in the section individual playoffs, which start Tuesday, Oct. 9.

"We will take two singles players and two doubles teams and compete to go to state individually," Johnson said. "The North Sub-Section is held in Duluth starting at 8 in the morning with single elimination."

In singles play, the 'Jacks will have the No. 9 seed Michelle Jokinen playing the No. 8 seed Kaitlyn MacMillan from Denfeld.

CEC's other singles player is Emma Wells, No. 15 seed, and she will play the No. 2 seed, Ryan Gray from Hermantown.

Meanwhile, in doubles, the No. 7 seed, Lexi Norrgard, and Kylie McKeon of CEC will play the No. 10 seed from North Branch, Amanda Scarborough and Hollie Ohnsorg.

The No. 12 seeded doubles team of Lauren Maslowski and Addie Loeb will play the No. 5 seed from Grand Rapids, Courtney Brandt and Brianna Scherping.

"This group of girls battled all year long as the underdogs and they kept a great attitude and work ethic, which says a lot about who they are," Johnson said. "We have a lot of laughs and a lot of smiles. There have been ups and downs throughout the season, but they have been just a pleasure to coach."