'Jacks roll to Rapids rematch


November 3, 2023

Dave Harwig

The Cloquet volleyball team celebrates its 3-1 win over North Branch in Monday's section 7AAA semifinal match at Cloquet Middle School. The Lumberjacks were once again facing Grand Rapids in the section final Thursday in Hermantown.

As the top seed in the Section 7AAA volleyball tournament, the Cloquet Lumberjacks received a first-round bye. On Monday night, the 'Jacks stepped on their home court to play a semifinal match against fourth-seeded North Branch.

Cloquet managed to come out with a hard-fought 3-1 victory by scores of 22-25, 25-20, 25-17 and 25-22.

"We hadn't played since Oct. 17, and I think that had a lot to do with the way we started the match," said Heidi Anderson, Cloquet's head coach.

At one point in the first set, the 'Jacks held a 22-18 lead and appeared to be on their way to a set victory. Instead, the Vikings rolled off seven straight points as they snatched a win from what appeared to be a certain loss.

"We were just a bit rusty and we struggled with some basics in our serve and receive game," Anderson said.

In the second game, the 'Jacks came out and were aggressive early as they sprinted out to a 10-3 lead. Again the Vikings bounced back as they cut into the lead, and at one point trailed just 16-15.

The Lumberjacks started attacking the Vikings defense with multiple powerful hits and tips and pulled away to win 25-20, tying the match up at 1-1.

"That was an important set for us," Anderson said. "We started to settle in a bit."

Set three saw Cloquet again gain the early edge as they pulled ahead 18-12. Eventually, the Lumberjacks were able to cause confusion on the Vikings defense as they rolled to a 25-17 win and a 2-1 lead.

"The third set was a good set for us, and it was good to get that lead," said Anderson. "I am sure they have seen a lot of film on us, so we had to make some adjustments."

The fourth set was a back-and-forth affair, but the Lumberjacks got a break when leading hitter Ava Carlson rotated to the front row with the score tied at 22-22. After that, it was all Cloquet as they took the set 25-22 to give them the win and a spot in the finals Thursday.

"It worked out exactly the way we needed it to," Anderson said. "We had Lexi Niemi, one of our best servers, in the back serving, and our rotation had Carlson and our beginning-of-the-game rotation at the net, and it worked perfectly."

Carlson led the 'Jacks with 12 kills, 10 digs and an ace serve. Carly Johnson was also stellar with eight kills, 10 digs and 19 set assists. Josie Lindstrom came in and provided power with five kills and an ace serve; Ella Maslowski also came up big with eight digs and 15 set assists. Blythe Proulx had four kills and a pair of blocks, and Quinn Danielson had 19 digs in the back row.

Dave Harwig

Cloquet's Carly Johnson sets a ball during Monday night's section 7AAA semifinal against North Branch. Johnson had 19 set-assists, to go along with 10 digs and 8 kills.

The Lumberjacks will face Grand Rapids at 6 p.m. Thursday in the title game at Hermantown. Cloquet downed the Thunderhawks for the first time in 20 years on Oct. 12. Grand Rapids reached the finals by dispatching Hermantown, also on Monday night.

"Grand Rapids was without their libero when we played them the first time, so we know they'll be better," Anderson said. "I am glad we got challenged by North Branch, because that will make us better."

Cloquet and Grand Rapids will meet for the 7AAA title for the third year in a row, with the Thunderhawks having won the past two section titles.

"Our girls will be ready, and I am sure they will be ready," said Anderson. "There are two good teams that will play, and we are looking forward to playing them again."


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