(NNCNOW.com) --- The Cloquet boys' basketball team will be the first of three Northland squads to compete at the state tournament this week followed by Esko and then Fond du Lac Ojibwe on Thursday afternoon at Williams Arena.
The Lumberjacks are returning to state for the first time since 2000. Head coach Steve Battaglia, who played in two state tournaments as a player in the late '90s, said his team will be ready to go come tip-off.
"We're a pretty veteran group. These guys have been a state football tournament and were in the section final for basketball last year. I think as good as a high school kid could do. They're going to keep their poise as well as could be expected," said Battaglia.
"Just focus on the way we've been playing these past couple of games," said Lumberjacks senior Adam Laine. "It's been working really well. Our defense has been playing strong and keep knocking down shots. That's all we have to do."
The Eskomos are making their second straight trip to the state tournament after finishing fourth a season ago. As the No. 2 seed, Esko has higher expectations this time around.
"Hopefully our prep is at a level where we can compete with these teams," said head coach Mike Devney. "Yeah, the bar is higher. I think the main goal is these guys want to be playing on Saturday. If we can play Saturday at 2:00 and get to that game, I like our chances."
Fond du Lac Ojibwe has to wait until Thursday to make their state debut. Head coach Earl Otis said it still hasn't sunk in that his squad will be playing at Williams Arena.
"I still can't grasp it really good," said Otis. "I won't grasp it until I get down there when we walk out on the court and my team is running on the basketball court. That's when it's really going to hit me."