Prep volleyball: Young Carlton tops Esko
ESKO -- Carlton volleyball coach Barb Soukkala has a theory about her impossibly young team's success this fall.It could be as simple as ignorance."It's that old adage -- maybe they don't know they're supposed to be nervous because they're so you...
ESKO - Carlton volleyball coach Barb Soukkala has a theory about her impossibly young team’s success this fall.
It could be as simple as ignorance.
“It’s that old adage - maybe they don’t know they’re supposed to be nervous because they’re so young,” the Bulldogs’ longtime coach said after a 3-1 win at Polar League rival Esko on Monday night. “Maybe they don’t know what’s at stake.”
This is a program that knows little about down years. Despite the Class A school’s tiny enrollment, Soukkala somehow finds a way to restock the cupboards annually. She has a robust 14 freshmen on the roster, and the youngsters can play. Monday, five of them were in the starting lineup as Carlton (19-8) defeated the Eskomos 26-24, 25-22, 23-25, 25-23.
The Bulldogs likely can lock up a No. 1 seed for the upcoming Section 7A playoffs with a win against Cook County tonight.
Soukkala says she expected a drop-off in 2015, after a group of seniors that included Grace Macor and Jessica Stanslaski led Carlton to a second consecutive state tournament in 2014. But the Bulldogs were back in the section final last season.
They just keep reloading.
“That’s a tribute to Barb,” Esko coach Desiree DeLeon said. “She takes these kids, and it doesn’t matter what age, and they get better every game throughout the season. She coaches them up.”
Monday, freshmen littered the box score. Abby Mickle led the way with 16 kills, while her twin sister, Brynne, totaled 50 set assists. Taylor Nelson and Alaina Bennett added 13 and nine kills, respectively. All are in ninth grade.
Abby Mickle snapped a 24-24 gridlock in the opener with back-to-back winners. Age is just a number, she said. At this point in the season, there are no nerves.
“Not really, because we know what to expect,” she said.
Not only is Carlton winning with an almost completely retooled cast, it’s doing so with a roster that won’t soon be described as “vertically blessed.”
Abby Mickle, for example, stands 5-foot-7. Nelson, meanwhile, is 5-8. Keep in mind: They are outside hitters.
Soukkala called them “probably the shortest (outside hitters) in the area, but they can get up and hit the ball.”
The Bulldogs, belying their youth, were poised throughout Monday’s match against their rivals, in a stuffy gym with a pair of active and boisterous student sections. They don’t hurt themselves with unforced errors, but rather play smart, fundamentally sound volleyball. There isn’t an overpowering hitter like 2015 graduate Macor or 2016 graduate Macy Belich, but the results are largely the same: Carlton is closing in on another 20-win campaign and ranks as one of the section favorites.
Throughout the match, Soukkala and her assistant coaches appeared to be making a concerted effort to keep the mood light. They were laughing and encouraging. That was especially true after the Game 3 loss. With so many first-year varsity regulars, coaching attitude can be almost as important as X’s and O’s.
Plus, as Soukkala said, matches likes this are fun. She wants her players to enjoy them.
She sure is.
“Oh, we’re having fun,” Soukkala said.
For the Eskomos (15-11), the regular season’s conclusion comes at a good time. They can get healthy ahead of the Section 7AA playoffs. They were without a key cog in senior hitter Judy Wagemaker (ankle sprain) against Carlton. Esko, which received 30 kills from Hannah Stark and 43 assists from Taylor Robinson, played well and made the contest interesting. Thus, DeLeon wasn’t fretting about the final result.
“I like to win, don’t get me wrong,” she said. “But I liked the way my team competed. It was a good, fun, scrappy match.”