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Prep girls state soccer: Cloquet-Carlton hopes to outlast Red Knights

The Lumberjacks will face off against Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the Minnesota Class AA semifinal Thursday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

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Caley Kruse (9) Cloquet-Carlton and Ashley Thompson (10) of St. Francis compete for the ball during the Class AA state quarterfinals on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, at Irondale High School in New Brighton, Minn. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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Cloquet-Carlton senior Caley Kruse doesn’t really remember what she was doing the last time the Lumberjacks played in a state semifinal, for good reason.

It was 2009, Kruse was a kindergartener and said she was probably playing with “Legos or dolls.”

Coach Dustin Randall had just moved to Cloquet earlier that summer and was hired to coach the Lumberjacks at the last minute.

“I was literally living in my brother’s basement and still trying to find a house when I started coaching,” Randall said.

The Lumberjacks will face the Red Knights at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

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Cloquet-Carlton advanced to Thursday’s Class AA semifinal against top-seeded Benilde-St. Margaret’s with a 1-0 win over St. Francis Oct. 28 at Irondale High School in New Brighton.

Kruse was instrumental in the quarterfinal win over the Saints.

The Lumberjack defender “kicked up a perfect ball,” according to forward Katie Turner, who took the pass and found the back of the net for the only goal of the game.

Not content with the assist, Kruse made a potentially game-saving play when Lumberjack goalkeeper Katelyn Olson came up to make a save and was out of position when the rebound went to a St. Francis player. Kruse raced over and kicked the ball to the sideline and allowed Olson to get back in position before play resumed.

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Sadie Senich (15) of Cloquet-Carlton competes with Danna Garcia Velazquez (10) and Isabel Linnerooth, both of North Branch, for the ball during the Section 7AA final Oct. 19 at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth. Clint Austin / 2021 File / Duluth News Tribune
CLINT AUSTIN

The Lumberjack defense is the backbone of the team this season. Those defenders, including fellow seniors Olivia Jameson and Sadie Senich, have been playing together for most of the 12 years since the Lumberjacks last made a run this deep in the state tournament.

“The defense really helps each other out, we cover for each other,” Kruse said. “If one of us steps forward, another will cover and we trust each other, we know that we’ll have each other’s backs. We can take those risks that could have a big payoff and we don’t have to worry if we do lose it, we know we’ll be covered.”

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Defense will be key in the matchup against Benilde. While Cloquet-Carlton (17-2) has allowed just six goals all season, the Red Knights (17-0-1) have done slightly better in allowing just five goals and recording 14 shutouts.

The Lumberjacks have already faced down an undefeated team with a stingy defense in St. Francis, but Randall said Red Knights are a more “complete team” that has faced a higher level of competition.

“I don’t think they’re going to have a lot of holes anywhere on the field,” he said.

Cloquet-Carlton is a defense-oriented team, with the offense flowing from defensive stops and turnovers.

“You start with the defense — you take care of that — and that actually creates opportunities for you on the other end,” Randall said. “Step one is just to get into the game, try not to get scored on and go from there. I think we’ve got enough that we can hopefully get some chances, but then we’ve got to make the count. If we can play a counter attack, if we get an opportunity to turn the ball over, we can go the other way before they can catch us. I think that’s where we’re going to be able to exploit something.”

Kruse said Benilde-St. Margaret’s plays a similar style to the Lumberjacks and expects a close game.

“It’s really going to be a lot of grit and just who can last longer,” Kruse said. “It’s going to be a low-scoring game, but it’ll be a great game.”

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Related Topics: SOCCERCLOQUETGIRLS SOCCER
Jamey Malcomb has been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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