Youthful Cloquet-Esko wrestlers improving each weekAlthough the Lumberjacks (1-7) fell to Onamia (Mille Lacs) 50-21 Tuesday in a dual at Cloquet High School, Coach Al Denman said his wrestlers are learning more skills every week.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
CLOQUET – Knees sore, back aching and body stiff, it’s a common sight to see Cloquet sophomore Treavor Lowther walk slowly out of the school’s wrestling gym on practice nights.
“It always worth it though,” said the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder.
Never-say-quit attitudes like Lowther’s have been the foundation to the growing Cloquet-Esko varsity wrestling program, now in its sixth year of existence.
“That’s been the hallmark of our program I think,” Lumberjacks Coach Al Denman said of his kids’ hard-working, fearless mindsets. “People don’t understand how difficult it is to go out there by yourself and wrestle. It’s very rare to find people like that. But these kids choose not to lie down.”
Although the Lumberjacks (1-7) fell to Onamia (Mille Lacs) 50-21 Tuesday in a dual at Cloquet High School, Denman was the first to say it was the finest competition for his thin-rostered squad.
“[Mille Lacs] is a full team and we’re not,” Denman said of the three forfeited weight classes they suffered Tuesday. “But it was the best dual we’ve had so far, absolutely. It was a very exciting competition. The junior varsity was awesome. I think the fans really enjoyed tonight.”
Denman has been coaching the high school program for all six years of its existence, receiving much-noted help along the way from the Cloquet Area Youth Wrestling Association (CAYWA), amongst others.
Denman said his team is progressing.
“Sure, there is some inexperience and plenty of new wrestlers here, but these kids aren’t backing out,” said Denman. “Our kids get out there with a plan and are doing the best with the tools that they have. And to me, that’s so admirable.”
Tuesday’s winners against the Raiders included Mitchell Borchardt
(a third-period pin, at 5:03) and Jordan Baker (13-7 win), while Kristina Erickson earned a forfeit and Lowther got a second-period pin, at 2:21.
Hosting the home-opening triangular last Thursday, Cloquet-Esko fell to depleted Ogilvie 44-24, followed by stout Milaca-Faith Christian 80-0 in back-to-back matchups. Denman said his Lumberjacks had to forfeit five weight classes because of injuries. Filling two of those slots Tuesday, Denman was pleased.
“We got some kids back,” said Denman, noting Tony Wilton wrestled despite a shoulder injury, while Reid Borchardt saw his first action since breaking his hand and Lowther moved up to the heavyweight division to avoid a forfeiture. “They’re starting to learn the concepts we’re teaching them, too.”
Earlier this season, Denman explained that his team practices harder than most expect. In addition to watching their diets to stay up to weight regulations, Denman said wrestlers tend to sweat out three to five pounds of weight per practice.
“I’m usually sore the next day,” said Lowther. “We have some tough practices. And coach always says, ‘If a caveman can’t eat it, we can’t eat it, either.”
Managing weight like most, Lowther has been the squad’s early-season sensation. The fall football player turned winter wrestler has won about half of his bouts this year, Denman said, while his late pin against Virginia in mid-December secured Cloquet-Esko its lone 40-36 victory thus far.
“I didn’t even know it depended on me,” Lowther said of his closing bout. “I just knew what I had to do and went out and did it. Coach then told me we won the match.”
Pandemonium soon erupted from the Lumberjacks’ sidelines.
“Everyone was screaming, yelling and jumping around,” said Lowther, now in his fourth year of wrestling. “It was very exciting for everyone up there.”
Lowther said wins like the one against the Blue Devils are just a tiny testament to the program’s persistent growth over their young
“We have a pretty small team and that makes it difficult,” Lowther said. “But even since the beginning of this season, everyone is getting better at their moves, their techniques and their execution. I can tell people are getting much better.”
So can their coach.
“Sure, there are times where it’s difficult,” Denman said, whose Lumberjacks will next take part in the Superior Individual Invite Saturday, while hosting Aitkin next Tuesday, Jan 10. “But these kids are showing a great deal of improvement. Great wrestlers don’t waste time taking you down. And our kids are starting to get that.”
Sore or not.