’Jacks wrestling battle at conference, team sectionsAfter a long and tough season, Cloquet-Esko wrestling coach Al Denman can’t say enough about his wrestlers’ courage. To him, that means the most. “So many of them are just grateful for the opportunity to get out and wrestle, and that’s so encouraging,” he said. “I really appreciate the fact that they’re stepping up.”
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
After a long and tough season, Cloquet-Esko wrestling coach Al Denman can’t say enough about his wrestlers’ courage. To him, that means the most.
“So many of them are just grateful for the opportunity to get out and wrestle, and that’s so encouraging,” he said. “I really appreciate the fact that they’re stepping up.”
No, the Lumberjacks didn’t have any Great River Conference champions at last Friday’s conference meet in Onamia. And no, they didn’t fare well in the Section 7AA quarterfinals, getting drubbed by Nashwauk-Keewatin 63-15 Tuesday night in Virginia.
But to Denman, none of that matters.
“Our kids go out there most nights and know they are going to get it handed to them,” he said, “but they still go out there and compete. And I admire that courage. That gives me hope that they’re going to be great citizens someday.”
Last week in Onamia, Denman’s daughter, junior Jolynne, was the highest individual conference medalist, claiming fourth place at 103 pounds. According to Al, Jolynne has defeated roughly half a dozen boys this winter.
“I’d have to check my scorebook,” he laughed, “but that’s pretty darn good. Jolynne has had a great season for us.”
Behind Jolynne Denman came a list of Lumberjacks in fifth place, including Jordan Baker, Nelson Hall, Marcus Hunt, Tahkoa Smith and Kristina Erickson. Joseph Hamilton also took home a sixth-place finish.
“For a lot of those first-year wrestlers, it was their first win,” recalled Denman. “And just to get one is a big deal. Most first-year wrestlers don’t even earn one win. So to see that and all the improvements they’ve made was really nice.”
On Tuesday, Cloquet-Esko was on the Iron Range for the Section 7AA quarterfinals of the team tournament. As the bottom seed, they clashed with the No. 3 Spartans, and quickly found things difficult.
“Nashwauk is a strong team, but not the strongest,” said Denman. “They’re tough and, really, they could fill their weight classes and we didn’t.”
The Lumberjacks took five forfeits on the night, as Nashwauk-Keewatin rolled its way to the 48-point rout. Only three wrestlers posted points for Cloquet-Esko, as seventh-grader Mitchell Borchardt took a forfeit, while Jolynne Denman earned a pin and Jordan Baker won a 9-3 decision.
With their team season now concluded with a 1-17 overall record, the optimistic Lumberjacks will look forward to next weekend’s Section 7AA Individual Tournament in Grand Rapids on Feb. 25 and 26.
The focus will be on 171-pound senior Jake Baker.
Due to severe swelling in his right knee, Cloquet-Esko’s top wrestler has been sidelined for the past week and missed conference and team section action, as well as practice time. He went to the doctor Wednesday for a check-up in hopes of a return.
“We’re all keeping our fingers crossed,” said Denman. “We haven’t been able to work with him at all for a while. Jake’s one of the top wrestlers in the section at his weight and has paid his dues. He deserves a shot and we think that he can go up there and win. It’ll be tough, but we think he can do it. If he can’t return, that’ll be hard to take.”
If he can return, Baker, of course, is wishing for the best.
“I’m hoping that I can get up there and wrestle because I’ve got a lot to prove,” said Baker. “I’m feeling a little bit better and most of the swelling has gone down lately.”
If he can’t continue, Baker knows he’s enjoyed his time as a Lumberjack.
“I’ve wrestled ever since I was in first grade,” he said, “It’s been a privilege to wrestle in Cloquet. And I’ve loved every minute of it.”