Cloquet, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- With an offer on the table to play Division I hockey at Bemidji State, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton senior defenseman Carley Esse found comfort in its striking similarities to home.
"I think it was just because it reminded me a lot of Cloquet," Esse said. "The community is super tight, and everyone supports the hockey team like everyone supports us here in Cloquet. It just seemed really cool."
Carley follows in her older sister's skate strides to collegiate hockey, with Courtney Esse now a junior defenseman at St. Scholastica. The sisters' father, Dave, was also an All-American defenseman during his playing days at UW-Superior.
That said, it's something else entirely in which the Esse parents take the most pride.
"More importantly, they're very good people," Dave Esse said. "They're very respectful people, and they get good grades. My wife and I are very proud of that, but it doesn't hurt getting a scholarship to play hockey. That's a pretty good thing."
Good, too, that she was able to make her choice early on and shift focus to her final season with the Lumberjacks.
"It was a huge stress to have that on my shoulders, and it just feels like a weight's been lifted off of me," Carley said. "I can just enjoy my senior year with my teammates and friends."
That senior year has been good to Esse, who is currently the leading scorer for Cloquet-Esko-Carlton with 12 goals and 19 assists through 21 games.
First-year head coach Lance Horvat, though, says her influence with the 'Jacks goes well beyond the score sheet.
"She's a phenomenal leader in and out of the locker room, on and off the ice," Horvat said. "She's a straight-A student in the classroom. She's very determined, has her goals set straight, and knows what she wants."
And with her college choice now out of the way, what Esse wants is a championship trophy from Section 7AA.
"Every year, our goal is to make it to the section final and the state tournament," Esse said. "This is another year, and we're really hoping we can do it."