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Esko edges Cloquet in 3 tight sets

Esko volleyball coach Desi DeLeon talks to the Eskomos' team during a timeout. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal1 / 3
Cloquet's Brenna McClarey makes a kill attempt Tuesday, Sept. 25. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal2 / 3
Taiya Gregg (11) and the Esko volleyball team celebrate their 3-0 sweep of Cloquet after the Tuesday, Sept. 25, match at Esko High School. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal3 / 3

Next-door neighbors Cloquet and Esko hooked up in a high school volleyball match Tuesday, Sept. 25, in Esko with a packed gym full of fans from both schools greeting the teams as they hit the floor. Esko rode the momentum to 25-23, 25-21 and 26-24 victory.

"We knew that Cloquet had a lot of players with a lot of experience and that it would be a tough match," Esko coach Desi DeLeon said. "Cloquet plays a lot of seniors and we are younger, so we really tried to have the girls work on staying focused and being mentally tough."

The environment in the gym was raucous and loud and the games were tight.

"We were up 22-20 in both the first and third sets," Cloquet coach Heidi Anderson said. "The gym was packed, it was youth medal night, and we let the environment get to us at times. Teams in the area are so close, there is a lot of parity this year. We are giving ourselves a chance, but we need to do a better job of finishing."

Taiya Gregg had a big night of finishing off the Esko offense by pounding down 20 kills to go along with 10 digs.

"She (Gregg) is our go-to hitter," DeLeon said. "We also have other girls who can put the ball down and that helps our offense."

Gregg's performance created difficulty for Cloquet at the net, while Savannah Sears tried to do the same for Cloquet by finishing with 12 kills.

"Gregg pounded through or around our blacks several times," Anderson said. "Esko was just real scrappy on defense and they didn't let much fall. There were several balls that you would expect to be down for a point, but they found a way to get them back over."

Dea DeLeon led the Eskomo defense with 17 digs from her libero position. The Eskomos also got solid efforts from setters Sarah Wagemaker and Brenna Stark, who each finished with 16 set assists.

"Both Sarah and Brenna are first year starters and they are learning as we go. It is fun to watch them improve and I am proud of them," DeLeon said. "Dea had a nice game for us, as did our whole team in the back row. You can't get into your offense if you don't dig the ball out first and we did a nice job of that against Cloquet."

Zoie Johnson and Gabrielle Martenson recorded five and six kills, respectively, to aid the Eskomo offense.

Cloquet also had a big effort up front from Alahna Ninneman, who had 10 kills. Natalie Spath contributed 11 digs for the 'Jacks, while Olivia Diver notched 15 set assists and Emerson Rock finished with 12 set assists.

"Olivia and Emerson are doing a good job of distributing the ball for us in our 6-2 offense," Anderson said. "We got away from running the middle in the first two sets where we usually score a lot of points and we did a better job of getting the ball to Alahna and Lucy Sinkkonen in the third set, but we had some costly communication errors."

Both teams have identical records at 7-9 on the season after Tuesday's match.

"We are seeing progress from our young crew and they are learning every game they play," DeLeon said. "We are working on being more consistent and we are working toward peaking at playoff time."

Those sentiments are also echoed by Anderson.

"We are making good strides, but we need to be more consistent in controlling our first contact and getting passes and digs to our target," Anderson said. "In some of the bigger games, we have not been able to hit our serving targets and we are working on being mentally tough in tight situations."

Next up for Esko will be a Thursday, Sept. 27, home match against Hibbing. The 'Jacks will play at Denfeld on Thursday.

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