Two of the Northland's better high school volleyball teams met in Carlton on Tuesday, Sept. 4, as a veteran Bulldogs team hosted a veteran Cloquet outfit.
The Bulldogs came out on top in three straight games by scores of 25-18, 25-16 and 25-14.
Carlton (2-0) is likely to have another big season before it, while Cloquet (2-1) is learning its rotation in the early going.
"Honestly, I don't think we played all that well," Carlton coach Barb Soukkala said. "They (Cloquet) blocked us a few times, made some passes, but we were able to come out on top."
On a very hot, humid night inside the Carlton gym, players sometimes fought for their footing, and that affected play.
The gym was site to three games Tuesday — C team, junior varsity and varsity — and the stands were close to full. That raised the temperature in the gym and made for some warm, and at times, slippery, play.
"We wound up taking some starters out of the game," Cloquet coach Heidi Anderson said. "We had one player in a knee brace and it wasn't worth the risk when the floor could be slippery. But that isn't an excuse. Carlton was the better team and deserved to win."
And win the Bulldogs did. Taylor Nelson and Abby Mickle led Carlton with nine kills each and Brynne Mickle had 20 set assists.
Alahna Ninneman had nine kills for Cloquet (2-1), while Savannah Sears had five kills and 13 digs. Olivia Diver had 13 set assists.
But the Bulldogs were in cruise control for most of the night — a fact not lost on Soukkala.
"You don't have to tell these kids that much," she said. "They understand the game. You can give them a few tips at times but really, they know what they're doing out there."
Cloquet, which boasted 3-1 wins over Duluth East and Marshall last week to start off 2-0, is still trying to find places for certain players in the rotation.
"There is some experimentation," Anderson said. "The kids work hard in practice and we're going to do everything we can to try to find time for them to play in the matches."
But a loss to a smaller school won't hurt Cloquet as much in the computerized section rankings, while the victory over a larger school will help the Bulldogs.
"We got a bonus when we beat Duluth East because they're a size above us," Anderson said. "Carlton isn't in our section and they aren't in our conference, so it was a good chance for us to see some new players. But they have an excellent team and they certainly deserved to win."
Soukkala noted that Tuesday's match came on the first day of classes in Carlton, which is often a difficult day for players to switch gears and take part in an athletic event.
She pointed to her team's 28-26, 23-25, 25-16, 25-18 win at Deer River on Aug. 28 as a better example of her team's caliber of play.
"That was a great match, real fun to watch for fans and coaches alike," she said. "Great stuff — spikes, digs, great saves. You name it, that match had it. It was a real challenge for us."
Carlton is at Silver Bay on Thursday, Sept. 6, at the start of a stretch of four straight matches on the road. That schedule will include games at Duluth East on Monday, Sept. 10, Esko on Tuesday, Sept. 11, and Floodwood on Thursday, Sept. 13.
"Esko will be competitive no matter how good the teams are because of the rivalry," Soukkala said. "These kids see each other during summer leagues as well, so they know each other pretty well."
Cloquet hosts Eveleth-Gilbert on Thursday, Sept. 6, Moose Lake-Willow River on Tuesday, Sept. 11, and Virginia on Sept. 18 as part of a stretch that doesn't see them play away from home for over two weeks.
"Not much we can take from this match except to get ready for Eveleth-Gilbert and try to bounce back," Anderson said. "The players will be ready."