Soccer practice sounded more like basketball on Tuesday, Aug. 24, in Cloquet.
Shoes were squeaking on the hardwood floor and bouncing balls echoed off the walls.
Smoke from the Greenwood Fire and morning lightning forced the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys team inside the Cloquet High School gym, but it didn’t seem to affect the team’s intensity or focus.
The team has been working almost since the end of last season to improve and get better because of some “unfinished business” from last season, according to coach John Sundquist.
The Lumberjacks were undefeated heading into the Section 7A tournament in 2020, but fell in the quarterfinals to eventual section champion Duluth Denfeld. The 1-0 upset by the Hunters, an 8 seed heading into the tournament, left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Lumberjacks.
“To say that it was a disappointment — that’s for sure,” Sundquist said. “Even right after the banquet last year, the (2021) seniors came back and they were already ready to go. They were already focused on what they need to get better and finish the job this year.”
The Lumberjacks will have to replace 12 seniors — including eight starters — from the 2020 team, including Class A All-State selections Drake Schramm and Spencer Rousseau. Schramm led the area with 21 goals and tied for the state lead with 17 assists to total 38 points in just 13 games. Rousseau had three goals and four assists, and was CEC’s defensive anchor in the midfield. Opponents scored only two goals during the regular season with Rousseau on the field.
The Lumberjacks return their second leading scorer from a year ago, sophomore phenom Elijah Aultman. The Sierra Leone native scored 20 goals in his first season for CEC and will be key in filling the holes left by Schramm, Rousseau and the other Lumberjack seniors.
“You don’t replace those guys,” Sundquist said. “But Elijah is going to be huge and he just exudes confidence ... He’s one of those players that you don’t want to coach too much. You don’t want to ruin him.”
In addition to Aultman, CEC returns seven seniors, including captains Sam Bailey, Carson Essler, Spencer Teitelbaum and Ryan Tomsche. The team also returns its starting goalie from 2020 in junior Lucas Rauner.
Bailey said the loss to Denfeld in the playoffs stung, but he is looking forward to writing a different ending to the 2021 season.
“I don’t want my season to end like that,” Bailey said. “I think that loss has really helped me step up my game to try to make sure we don’t miss out again.”
Tomsche said the Lumberjacks started captains’ practices several weeks earlier than normal this season, and they’ve been working to come together as a team and on the defensive end.
“We’ve been going out to the fields almost every day,” Tomsche said. “This year, we’re very serious about making it to state and winning the section finals.”
This year, the Lumberjacks need some of their younger players to step into bigger roles, according to Sundquist, and focus on playing their style, improving throughout the season and going into the section tournament playing their best soccer.
“We don’t want to get up playing other people’s games,” Sundquist said. “A lot of teams like to play it long and we don’t want to get into a kicking contest. We just want to stay within ourselves and play our game. It’ll basically just be us trying to peak at the right time.”
Greyhounds return strong team
After ending the 2020 season in the Section 7AA final, Duluth East could be poised to make a run back to the state tournament, according to Coach Corey Bachand.
The Greyhounds return seniors Kai Hoffman at the midfield position and Aiden Olson as defenders. They will also have experience at goalkeeper, with seniors Elijah Kramer and Andrew Goman splitting time at the position.
In addition, for the first time ever, Duluth East will have an eighth-grader coming off the bench in forward Will Smith.
“He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future,” Barchand said. “He’s learning a lot and he’s a big, strong kid with a lot of touch. I’m really excited to see what he does.”
Bachand said the Greyhounds are planning to attack and do plenty of scoring, but with the experience on the defensive line and at goalkeeper, they should also be able to hold opponents in check. With the talent they have on the roster, Bachand thinks the Greyhounds are a good bet to be the team left standing after the Section 7AAA tournament.
“I’m really excited to see what the kids are going to do this year,” Bachand said. “We’re solid, I don’t really have a weak position this year...I know we’ve got to earn it, but we should be standing there at the end of the day. I don’t know if it’s a 2018 team that made it to the state final, but we’re close. This is the closest team I’ve had to that for sure.’