Young wrestlers continue to struggleFollowing another dual defeat and long bus trip home Tuesday night, Cloquet-Esko wrestling coach Al Denman was blunt.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Following another dual defeat and long bus trip home Tuesday night, Cloquet-Esko wrestling coach Al Denman was blunt.
“We’re not going to win a dual all season – it’s just not going to happen,” he said. “We’re just too young and don’t have the experience to win at the varsity level.”
Denman went on to mention that his squad’s struggles have stemmed from the loss of eight wrestlers from a year ago.
“It’s like wiping out your entire varsity basketball team and starting from scratch,” elaborated Denman, “and going out there with a JV team.”
That youth and varsity inexperience again showed Tuesday when the Lumberjacks fell 38-18 at Great River Conference foe Ogilvie. Thin numbers forced winless Cloquet-Esko to forfeit four bouts, while they won just a pair.
Seventh-grader Mitchell Borchardt and senior Jake Baker were the only victors.
“We’re taking little steps as we go,” said Denman. “I mean we’re going up against schools that have 50-60 years of wrestling. We’re in our fifth year. Just to take the varsity mats in my mind is quite admirable.”
That’s what’s keeping Denman optimistic. The longtime wrestling coach knows that things will take time and eventually, his ’Jacks will see success.
That said, Denman has noticed immense improvements this winter.
“We’re starting to last longer and longer,” he said. “Some of our kids couldn’t last the first couple minutes when we started. Now though, they’re getting into the second and third periods and really battling.”
Although Denman predicted they won’t win all year, those miniscule gains have been enjoyable to witness for him. Noting how hard his crew works at practice, Denman said his wrestlers are getting better at using technique, too.
“It’s hard to explain without using wrestling jargon,” Denman laughed, “but in wrestling, you have to have a sense of where your opponent is. And we’re getting better at that. We’re trying new things and not making as many mistakes.”
Baker is the foundation of the team. The 171-pounder has lost just twice this year.
“This is basically a JV team, with the exception of Jake Baker,” said Denman. “He’s a tough kid.”
Saturday, Baker placed second at the Royalton-Upsala Individual Tournament, while senior rookie wrestler Tahkoa Smith placed fourth and Baker’s younger brother, sophomore Jordan, claimed sixth.
“That was fun,” said Denman about the weekend affair in central Minnesota. “There’s such a wide gap between the kids and their opponents, but they’re taking new chances and are learning what’s going on out there.”
Cloquet-Esko will look to eliminate the goose egg next to their name Thursday when they travel to conference nemesis Rush City-Braham – an opponent the ’Jacks lost to 40-36 at home in December in their closest dual thus far.
Denman’s bunch will then head north Saturday to take part in the highly-advertised Bemidji Individual Tournament. Denman noted they’ll stay in a hotel over the weekend – something everyone’s looking forward to, Denman included.
“It will be fun,” he said. “We’ll have some time to enjoy out there and develop our sense of team chemistry. Yet, they know it’s going to be a challenge for them. It’s a big, nasty tournament with a lot of good wrestlers. It’s going to take them a lot of courage, but I think they’re excited for the