CLOQUET — To say the Cloquet-Carlton girls soccer team has faced adversity this fall is a little like saying Apollo 13 had some trouble getting to the moon.
Beyond adapting to the protocols governing the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of a shortened campaign, the Lumberjacks needed to turn to an interim coach before the season even began and now must prepare for any controversy caused by a couple players kneeling during the national anthem.
One thing doesn’t change, however: the Lumberjacks keep on winning.
Cloquet-Carlton’s latest victory, 2-1 over Duluth Marshall on Thursday at Bromberg Field, was a classic example.
Down after an early goal, the Lumberjacks (2-0 overall, 1-0 Lake Superior Conference) responded with a Brenna Mattson penalty kick, an opportunistic Katie Turner goal and some big saves by goalkeeper Gracie Meagher to put themselves in the driver’s seat in the conference.
Bobbie Turner, an assistant coach the previous two seasons, stepped in Aug. 23 when head coach Dustin Randall was placed on administrative leave from his teaching and coaching positions.
“It was a little chaotic at first. There’s a lot that goes into the head-coaching role that I haven’t been involved with, so it was a learn-on-the-fly kind of thing,” said Turner, who coached many of the Lumberjacks in youth leagues. “I feel like we’ve got it figured out now. The girls were on board from the start and they show up every day and work hard for me.”
Meagher, who turned away several shots from speedy Marshall senior forward Baamlak Haugen in the first half, says that work rate is what keeps the Lumberjacks playing in top form. Cloquet-Carlton has won 12 of its past 13 games, losing only in a wild Class A state tournament quarterfinal.
“It’s been a little different (this fall), but we still have the same work ethic we’ve always had,” Meagher said. “We always come out to the field hard, show up to practice hard and go through our drills hard.”
As they did in Cloquet-Carlton’s season-opening win over Esko on Tuesday, starters Mireye Moose and Katelynn Kelley took a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner.
The Hilltoppers (1-1, 1-1) started fast with Haugen getting behind the defense down the left wing and beating Meagher in the 13th minute.
Just two minutes later, though, Marshall goalie Natalie Welinski bumped Alexa Snesrud off the ball in the penalty area and was whistled for a foul. Mattson converted on the penalty kick to tie the game.
Katie Turner, who scored 20 goals as a sophomore last season, netted the next one in the 29th minute when she blocked a clearing attempt, dribbled into the area and drilled home the game-winner.
“She’s a good finisher,” her mother and now coach said. “Local teams are watching her and Alexa (Snesrud), that we counted on them last year to put the ball in the net. We have to look broader this year and be more well-rounded.”
Haugen, who has committed to Minnesota Duluth, had a couple more excellent breakaway chances, including one that Meagher tipped wide for a corner kick with 10 minutes left in the half.
“We gave up the PK and we gave them the second goal, and you could see the energy they gained by doing that,” Marshall coach Nic Bacigalupo said. “We couldn’t finish some balls, and that’s how soccer goes. If you don’t put balls away and give the other team energy, they’re going to be all over you. That’s what they did to us today.”
The second half turned defensive, surprising for teams who scored seven goals in a 4-3 Cloquet-Carlton win a year ago. The Hilltoppers only managed one shot on goal in the final 40 minutes.
But Bobbie Turner says it wasn’t due to any inspirational halftime speech.
“We didn’t really change anything,” she said. “(Our defenders) just figured out their positioning better. (Baamlak) moved more centrally than out wide, which had allowed her to sneak in behind us a few times in the first half.
“They are fantastic at adjusting on the fly and figuring things out. They don’t need a ton of guidance, they just do it. I asked them if they wanted to make some changes, and they said, ‘Nope, we’ll handle it.’ ”
Meagher says the Lumberjacks’ experienced backline knew what to do.
“We just talked about winning those high balls that came through the ‘D’ and dropping back a little more to defend against (Haugen’s) speed,” the goalie said.
Bacigalupo had another take on the defending Section 7A champion’s victory.
“I just think they were smarter and worked harder than we did in the second half,” he said.
Just consider it another obstacle the Lumberjacks have overcome.