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Focus is fun at quirky Cloquet relays

The Cloquet relays are hosted by the Cloquet track team every spring as a midseason way to break up a busy but short season. Last Friday, May 5, the event was held again with Cloquet hosting teams from Hermantown, Proctor, Moose Lake/Willow River and Barnum.

"It is a good time to have some fun before the real busy time of the season begins," said Cloquet coach Tim Prosen. "We do things like a steeplechase with hay bales, and different types of relays that are not traditional high school relays."

The 'Jacks participated in the Section 7AA True Team meet on Tuesday in North Branch, followed by the Lake Superior Conference meet May 16. Cloquet will also be part of the Hermantown Quadrangular later in the month, before kicking off the Section 7AA meet on May 31, and wrapping up the section meet on June 3.

"Both our boys and girls teams are pretty darn good," Prosen said. "I really believe we will be in the mix both at sectionals and True Team sections."

Prosen coaches both the Cloquet boys and girls teams and said Seija Suominen has suddenly thrust herself into the talk as one of the top discus throwers in the state.

"Seija hit 120 feet at our meet on Friday," said Prosen. "Last year, Bella Harriman won the state meet for us with a throw of 122 feet, so Seija is right there for a chance if she can keep progressing."

Barnum longtime boys coach Rich Newman loves the relay meet and so do his athletes.

"There are so many nontypical relays that the kids love it," Newman said. "We let the kids decide who is running what races and they love it. Track can be a mundane sport because you do the same thing so much of the time, so to have something like this breaks things up."

Barnum has seen a fair number of strong performances this season, along with a few surprises.

"Cade Sheff has done a real good job for us in the 200 (meter dash)," Newman said. "Keenan Head ran a great 300 intermediate hurdles race, and is really coming on. And, Mark Hall, who went to state last year in the discus, continues to progress toward another shot at state."

On the girls side, Barnum coach Jill Litfin loves the Cloquet meet as a chance to break up the monotony of the season.

"It is just something different and it brings out the competitiveness in the girls," said Litfin. "It is a nice meet to have prior to the subsections and section meets."

Annika Bogenholm, who is coming off an injury, is now closing in on the school record for the shot put, according to Litfin.

"Annika is getting PRs in the shot and discus almost every time out," Litfin said.

Litfin also singled out Aili Lund in the hurdles and jumps as showing a lot of improvement. Ella Heaton, who runs distance events for the Bombers, has also been key at rallying the team and acting as a leader, the coach said.

Moose Lake/Willow River has been one of the busiest track and field teams in the area this spring, and last week held a 13-team meet prior to the Cloquet relays.

The departure from normal was appreciated by all the Rebel athletes.

"The kids really enjoy the atmosphere and the variety of events," said Noah Jurek, head coach of the Rebels. "It's fun, laidback, but they still compete hard. They all want the sacred T-shirt that Cloquet gives out as part of the relays."

As mentioned earlier, the Rebels have been busy this season, and they are seeing some better results because of the schedule.

"The season is going well for both the boys and the girls," said Jurek. "The boys have been dealing with a few injuries, but should be progressing in a healthy direction, and the girls team continues to be competitive in every meet."

The Rebel boys team is returning a state 4x100 team that, when healthy, should be able to compete for a spot to return to state. Elliott Wasche is having a strong year in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races.

The girls team also has some hopefuls in the sprints. Tyler Orvedahl is running some great times in the 100, 200, and 400. With a strong supporting cast of sprinters, the girls relay teams are looking to go far in sectionals.

Making last week's Cloquet relays even more special was that it was the last track meet of the season, as construction will begin for the new $4.9 million athletic complex.

Next season, athletes will compete on a brand-new track that will be configured with wider, sweeping turns.

"We will drag the old track over at Washington school and do some training over there," said Prosen, of what's next for Cloquet. "We will also look to find other tracks in the area to get some work in. At this time of the year the main thing is to keep the kids healthy. We can, and will, adapt."

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