Cloquet-Esko wrestlers lose depth, open Dec. 7It’s been a long year for Al Denman. In a 12-month span, the Cloquet-Esko wrestling coach has literally watched his Lumberjacks dwindle down wrestler after wrestler. Plagued by a mix of graduation, ineligibility and kids who have just flat-out quit, things have been rocky on the mats.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
It’s been a long year for Al Denman. In a 12-month span, the Cloquet-Esko wrestling coach has literally watched his Lumberjacks dwindle down wrestler after wrestler. Plagued by a mix of graduation, ineligibility and kids who have just flat-out quit, things have been rocky on the mats.
“It’s been really tough,” said Denman. “It just hasn’t been a good year for retaining wrestlers. It’s not recruiting that’s the problem, it’s retaining.”
Denman, who has coached Cloquet-Esko in all six years of its existence, explained that his squad is without roughly a dozen wrestlers this winter. Instead of 40 competitors on the mats, fans may see closer to 25.
“That’s just the way it goes,” said Denman, who has been involved with Cloquet wrestling since 2000 in the youth programs. “It’s just one of those things.”
The Lumberjacks graduated Cody Hraban, Jordan Land and Nathaniel Schulz, but Denman was thrown a curveball over the off-season when a handful of students simply called it quits. Everything from ineligibility, getting jobs, not making weight and not having interest in the sport played a factor in the demise.
Denman even mentioned he lost his assistant coaches, and the one Barnum wrestler from last year’s team won’t be returning this winter either.
Yet, the wrestling guru is remaining confident in his crew.
“Our numbers are good,” said Denman, who will be assisted this year by Dale Borchardt and Cody Salo. Practice has already been in session at the Cloquet High School for a week-and-a-half.
Cloquet senior Jake Baker will be the Lumberjacks’ go-to wrestler this winter. Denman is expecting bright things from his 171-pounder.
“He’s going to carry the name of Cloquet, that’s for sure,” Denman said. “He’s gotten taller and stronger. I expect him to vie for the section championship and get to state. His chances are good.”
Cloquet-Esko also has six seniors who are wrestling for the first time.
“That’s a little late,” said Denman with a laugh, “but there’s some talent there.”
Of the rookies, a pair includes younger Cloquet girls Kylie Wilson and Jaelesa Northrup. The duo will join veteran wrestlers Jolynne Denman, a junior, and Kristina Erickson, a sophomore, in what Al Denman thinks is something special for people to take notice of.
“With four girls in our high school program, I’m pretty confident that we have the most girls of any varsity team in the state,” he said. “And that’s just an awesome thing.”
Denman added that the youth program continues to grow and impress him.
“A lot of times you find you find young wrestlers who play basketball and hockey in the winter as well, but not these kids, wrestling is all they do,” he said of his upcoming fifth- and sixth-graders. “In about four years, I expect this team to be one of the top two in the section. The success is coming.”
For now, however, Denman is remaining focused on what’s at hand.
“It’s not all about wins and losses,” said Denman, who will watch his team open up next Tuesday, Dec. 7 at Aitkin. “It’s about participation, too. We’re giving kids the opportunity to go out and participate. And that’s a good thing.”