In a fall prep season disrupted by the coronavirus, Cloquet’s volleyball team has avoided misfortune as much as anyone.

The Lumberjacks have played every match on their schedule and not had to sideline any players for health reasons.

The first blip on the season came Thursday, Nov. 5, when head coach Heidi Anderson was self-quarantining for safety reasons during a 3-0 loss to Greenway at Cloquet Middle School.

“We’ve been careful all season long, wearing our masks, keeping our distance and keeping our hands clean,” assistant coach Tyler Korby said. “We just want to play as much volleyball as we can.”

Cloquet’s Geneveve Fontoti (11) hits around the Greenway block in the first game of the Lumberjacks match at Cloquet Middle School Thursday, Nov. 5.  (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Cloquet’s Geneveve Fontoti (11) hits around the Greenway block in the first game of the Lumberjacks match at Cloquet Middle School Thursday, Nov. 5. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

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And the Lumberjacks (6-3) have been playing well, winning six consecutive matches before the 25-14, 25-15, 25-15 loss to the undefeated Raiders.

Greenway star outside hitter Claire Vekich’s 26 kills were too much to overcome.

“Claire is an All-State, Ms. Volleyball candidate, no doubt about it,” Korby said. “She’s a heck of an athlete. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone hit it as hard as she does. She comes in like a ton of bricks.”

Despite the setback Thursday, the Lumberjacks have improved mightily from the team that went 11-16 in the 2019 season.

“I think we’ve improved a lot since last year,” senior middle hitter Brenna McClarey said. “We’re working together a lot more and communicating.”

Cloquet’s Brenna McClarey (3) saves a ball in the second game of the match with Greenway at Cloquet Middle School Thursday, Nov. 5.  (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Cloquet’s Brenna McClarey (3) saves a ball in the second game of the match with Greenway at Cloquet Middle School Thursday, Nov. 5. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

While COVID-19 restrictions have made things more challenging, players say they are relishing the chance to play.

“It was definitely weird at the beginning of the season,” McClarey said, “but we’re really enjoying our time on the court together because you never know when the last game is going to be. We’re just cherishing every moment we get to be on the court.”

Cloquet students are currently in hybrid learning, which allows for in-person schooling only once every three days.

That means less time to chat about the season between classes or getting feedback from classmates, but that isn’t curtailing players’ zest any.

“I’m still excited that we get to have a season and thankful that we get to get out on the court every day,” junior setter Emerson Rock said. “Our coaches push us really hard in practice and it shows up at our games.”

Greenway’s Lexi Hammer (1) tries to tip the ball over Cloquet’s Aili Buytaert (8) in the second game of the match at Cloquet Middle School Thursday, Nov. 5.  (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Greenway’s Lexi Hammer (1) tries to tip the ball over Cloquet’s Aili Buytaert (8) in the second game of the match at Cloquet Middle School Thursday, Nov. 5. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Rules limit crowd size at matches to essentially just players’ parents, making it difficult for the home team to feed off the fans’ intensity.

“Taking the fans out of the gym can be tough, but the girls have rallied together nicely,” Korby said. “They’re playing for each other. We had a nice stretch here (of six straight wins) but we played a fantastic team tonight.”

Freshman Ava Carlson and senior Keelee Grashorn had five kills apiece for the Lumberjacks.

Greenway def. Cloquet 25-14, 25-15, 25-15. C (6-3): Ava Carlson 5K; Keelee Grashorn 5K; Emerson Rock 8SA, 3K; Morgan Van Reese 6SA. G: Claire Vekich 26K, 24D; Lexi Hammer 37SA, 7D; Emma Sutherland 5K; Bri Miller 5K; Ellie Vekich 6D; Kaisa Reed 6D.