Esko, Rebels end season in quarterfinals
March 10, 2023
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Esko girls basketball team dropped an 11-point decision to Duluth Marshall. On Saturday, the Eskomos played the Hilltoppers again, this time in the quarterfinal round of the Section 7AA tournament. Unfortunately, Marshall rode the hot hand of seventh-grader Chloe Johnson as the Hilltoppers eliminated Esko 62-52.
"When we played them at the end of the regular season it was Regan Juenemann who killed us," said Esko coach Sue Northey. "This time it was Johnson, and I think it was the best I've ever seen her play."
Johnson scored 33 points in the back-and-forth affair.
"Avery (Kuklinski) did a great job against Juenemann and held her to just eight points," Northey said. "We had a nice 8-0 run to start the game and then they fought back. They got up on us to start the second half, but then we'd fight back. In the end we had to foul, so they got to the free throw line and made their shots."
Esko was led in scoring by Hannah Swanson, who pumped in 15 points and Kyra Johnson with 10 points.
The big story was 13-year-old Marshall guard Chloe Johnson. "This was really her coming out party as a basketball player," Northey said. "She usually shoots only seven or eight times per game, but she decided it was going to be her night. She is an amazing ball player."
Johnson and Juenemamn are both already drawing Division I and the pair is considered the best in the state.
"She kept the ball in her hands, but what's scary is if they can ever get both those two playing at a top level on the same night it will be unbelievable," Northey said.
Esko also got eight points each from Kallie Sinnott and Cairin Berger, seven points from Kuklinski and two each for Kaitlyn McConnell and Erin Pettyjohn.
The Eskomos will lose only one senior this year, but it will be a big loss, as Kuklinski will move on to college next season.
"I haven't had many kids who can manage themselves like her," Northey said. "She never shows displeasure with officials, she always is positive with her teammates and gives an all-effort all the time. She pulled these younger players along and she is a pretty special young lady."
Esko finished the season 17-11. Northey thinks all the ups and downs of this season will serve well for the next couple of years.
"We saw tremendous growth with this team," Northey said. "It is important for the individual growth and the team growth to go through games where you have to fight from behind, you have to make that big free throw, and you have to learn that basketball sense. I think this year will really serve them well for next season."
Moose Lake/Willow River was knocked out of the Section 7AA tournament Thursday when they were beaten by No. 1 seed Pequot Lakes 77-28.
The Rebels entered the tournament as the No. 16 seed and ended the season with a record of 3-24.
"It has been a really fun season," said Rebels head coach Zak Mathson. "No matter what the record, these girls came in with smiles and worked hard every day. They were sad the season was over and hopefully they are excited to train for next year."
The Rebels will lose three seniors to graduation: Adelyn Szczyrbak, Lexi Klininksi and Hannah Roach.