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7A VOLLEYBALL: Carlton stunned in section final


November 8, 2019

Dan Saletel

A disappointed Carlton Bulldogs team fell to Greenway in the section final Saturday in Cloquet.

After an impressive 3-1 win over Ely in the semifinals Wednesday, Oct. 30, the Carlton girls volleyball team fell by a 3-0 score in the Section 7A finals to Greenway Saturday afternoon.

Against Ely, Taylor Nelson pounded down 18 kills in patrolling the net for the Bulldogs against the Timberwolves. The depth of talent for the Bulldogs in the 25-22, 25-12, 23-25, 25-18 win was evident in the numbers following the match. Brynne Mickle added 36-set assists in running the offense while Abby Mickle and Alaina Bennett had nine and seven kills respectively in the win.

The victory over Ely set up a much-anticipated showdown between the Bulldogs and the Greenway Raiders, who traveled to Cloquet from Coleraine for Saturday's game.

The top two teams in Section 7A were on a collision course from the start of the season, and that collision took place on Saturday with the Raiders notching a 25-15, 25-22, 25-19 win to capture a place in the state tournament.

"They played solid defense against us," said Carlton coach Barb Soukkala. "They didn't make many unforced errors."

The Bulldogs struggled to find an answer for the power of Greenway hitter Clair Vekich, who hammered down 27 kills while providing much of the muscle power for the Raiders.

"Vekich hit the ball really hard and quick," recalled Soukkala. "She sees the whole court well."

While the Bulldogs were struggling to keep Vekich in check, the Raiders setter, Lexi Hammer - who finished with 44 set assists - kept feeding the beast. Vekich responded. Adding to the Bulldogs' woes was the fact that the Raiders' Bri Miller and Kaisa Reed also had fine games with nine and five kills, respectively.

Carlton showed some resilience in the second set when they went up by three points early, but Vekich then came up with four straight kills to send the momentum back in their direction and effectively put the Bulldogs back on their heels. Time and time again, the Bulldogs fought valiantly to keep the ball off the floor, only to have the Raiders pound it back at them.

In the end, the power of the Raiders - especially Vekich - proved to be too much to overcome for the Bulldogs.

Dan Saletel

Carlton's Abby Mickle gets a hit over the net during Saturday's championship loss against Greenway in Cloquet.

Carlton graduates a total of 10 seniors who have been more than impressive in volleyball, basketball and softball during the high school careers. Despite the loss, this is a team that has been impressive for many years.

"The seniors are a fantastic group of athletes," Soukkala said. "They get along on and off the court. They have made history at Carlton. Their career record is 123 wins and only 30 losses. Most of those losses were when they were eighth-graders. They beat Esko and Hermantown the past three years. They will all go on to do great things."

Carlton finished a great season with a record of 27-3. Last year the Bulldogs finished with a record of 29-4 and a sixth-place finish in the Class A Minnesota State volleyball tournament.

Greenway entered Section 7A this year after back-to-back Section 7AA runner-up finishes.


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