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5 straight to State and just as sweet

The atmosphere at Members Cooperative Credit Union Stadium on Tuesday was nothing short of electric. The first game of any type to be played on the new turf field featured the Lumberjacks taking on North Branch in the Section 7AA girls championship game. The host Cloquet-Carlton didn't disappoint as they avenged an earlier season loss by winning 3-0.

"We didn't play our best game when we played them earlier in the season," said senior forward Kiley Issendorf.

In that 3-2 loss, the Lumberjacks were without their other senior, Madi Fredrickson, who anchors the Cloquet defense.

"Having her back helped stabilize everything for us," said Cloquet coach Dustin Randall. "We knew they had some forwards who liked to drive the outside and send crossing passes into the middle and our defense tonight was fantastic and we didn't allow them opportunities."

The section championship is the fifth in a row for the Lumberjacks, who improved to 13-2-4 on the season.

Cloquet-Carlton carried the play early in the first half and had numerous chances to score, but the 'Jacks didn't score until a scramble with 13 minutes left in the first half. Sophomore midfielder Lauren Hughes jumped on a loose ball and fired it into the net giving CC a 1-0 lead.

"That goal was huge for us," Fredrickson said. "We know we just have to keep pushing and getting that lead allowed us to kind of settle in and just play."

The first half ended with the Lumberjacks leading 1-0, but it didn't take long for them to add to the lead as Issendorf made a beautiful thread-the-needle pass just one minute into the second half that deflected off the goalkeeper's gloves. The ball ended up at the feet of sophomore Makayla Stirewalt, who rammed it into the back of the Vikings net for a 2-0 lead.

"Once we got the two-goal lead, we changed tactics a bit," coach Randall said. "We wanted to eliminate mistakes and keep our gaps tight."

North Branch made a push after the second goal by the 'Jacks, but Cloquet-Carlton was able to withstand the pressure and eventually grabbed a 3-0 lead on an amazing shot by freshman forward Mackenzie Lynch. Lynch broke down the right sideline and booted a ball from about 30 yards out that crossed over the top of the defense and goalie and banked in off the far post with 6:19 remaining.

When asked after the game if he thought Lynch was passing the ball or trying to score, coach Randall responded by saying, "Does it matter?"

"Once that goal went in, we knew we had it," Fredrickson said. "I am so proud of how hard the girls worked."

Junior goalkeeper Rylee Senich earned the shutout against North Branch.

The game was the first game of any type to be played on the new field and it was also the first game Cloquet has played at its home field all season.

"Playing on the new field was so exciting and we all had so much adrenaline pumping," Issendorf said.

That sentiment was echoed by a fellow senior.

"We knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for our team," Fredrickson said.

"It never gets old," said Randall of winning the section championship. "I was nervous before the game because I was worried that the opening of the new field might be a distraction, but these girls just amaze me. Nothing affects them and I was so happy for all of them, especially for the seniors, to get a chance to play in a super atmosphere at our new home field."

The win puts the 'Jacks in the Class AA state tournament next week with seeding for the tournament to be announced this weekend. The first-round quarterfinals could be anytime between Tuesday and Thursday, Oct. 24-26, with semifinals set for Tuesday, Oct. 31 and the state championship game on Nov. 3 at U.S. Bank Stadium.

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