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CEC lacrosse makes history

A new era in Cloquet-Esko-Carlton athletics began last week when the first lacrosse team in school history hit the field April 11 with a home game against Roccori at Members Cooperative Credit Union stadium.

When the final horn sounded, the Lumberjacks not only had played the first game in school history, they also had their first win, defeating Roccori 10-7.

It was a far cry from playing club games on dirt and grass fields around the Northland, some without a scoreboard.

Senior Saige Moran said it was surreal to come out with a win in the first game of a brand new program on brand new turf.

"From playing in Superior during Covid, to playing prep league on the Siege, it's all we've wanted the past four years," he said, referring to the club team that precipitated the high school program.

CEC head coach Luke Mehelich called it an amazing experience for players, coaches and fans.

"The crowd was huge and the guys were fired up about playing a home game and the whole experience was incredible," Mehelich said.

Many of the parents standing on the sidelines played a big role in getting the team approved, working for years to elevate the burgeoning sport. Last fall, the Cloquet School Board approved a first-of-its-kind agreement with the Northern Siege Youth Lacrosse Association to accept the new sport, provided it wouldn't cost the school district. The lacrosse association and student fees will cover busing, coaching, uniforms and other costs for at least five years. Because of lower numbers, CEC girls are playing with the Hermantown/Proctor Stealth team this year.

Last week's game gave excited parents an opportunity to enjoy the fruit of those labors.

"The setting at Cloquet made it feel like a big deal," said parent and Pine Knot photographer Dan Saletel. "It was like being present at history in the making."

The players - many who started playing together when they were just 8 or 9 years old - showed no sign of nerves in their high school debut.

After falling behind just two minutes into the game, Lumberjack Gino Bertogliat scored the first goal in school history two minutes later. That set off a scoring avalanche for CEC.

"After Gino scored, we went on a good scoring run," said Mehelich. "We didn't let up off the gas and then our defense and goaltending shut everything down."

Michael Cadotte got a hat trick, Bertogliat scored twice for CEC, as did Saige Moran. Ben Saletel, Connor Purcell and Alec Halverson all added one goal each.

Defensively the 'Jacks got strong play from Sam Cheslak, Grant Arro, Jake Peterson, Braeden Caple and Henry Warden. In the nets, CEC relied on both Patrick Radosevich and Broderick Marsh to hold down Roccori.

"After the game it was very emotional," Mehelich said. "It is hard to explain how overwhelming the emotions were. To play our first home game at the new complex and then to have a huge crowd and to win the game was incredibly special."

On Saturday, the Lumberjacks hit the road for their first away game in Grand Rapids. CEC beat the Thunderhawks, 12-7.

"We came out hard and got a big 6-0 lead," Mehelich said. "They really took it to us in the second half, but we were able to hold them off."

In the first quarter, the 'Jacks got goals from Bertogliat, Saletel, Moran and Bertogliat. Cadotte scored the lone CEC goal in the second quarter. In the third quarter, it was Halvorson, Cadotte and Moran scoring for CEC. In the fourth quarter, Cadotte and Purcell put the game away with goals less than 40 seconds apart.

"Our offense is arguably as good as you'll find in the section," Mehelich said. "But the big thing was our defense held strong when they made a big run at us in the second half. The game really revealed some things we need to work on. We don't play for a week, so it really is a good time for us to be able to review things that we now know we need to work on."

The CEC boys lacrosse team is now 2-0 on the season with the next home game set for Monday, April 22.