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Reynolds wrestles his way to second at state

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton wrestler Devin Reynolds works to gain control over Craig Orlando of Bertha-Hewitt-Verndalle-Parkers Prairie in the Class AA opening round of 285-pound weight class of the state wrestling tournament this weekend. Photo contributed by Denise Hammond1 / 6
Reynolds attempts to turn Craig Orlando of BHVPP on his back. Reynolds pinned his first three opponents and then fell 8-5 in the championship match to Mitch Trigg of Foley. Photo contributed by Denise Hammond2 / 6
CEC's Daniel Stevens (kneeling) wrestles against Zachary Peterson of Perham in the 170-pound weight class at the state wrestling tourmament. Peterson pinned Stevens at 3:17 to knock the Lumberjack out of contention. Photo contributed by Denise Hammond3 / 6
CEC wrestling coach Al Denman and his son, senior Conner, talk strategy during the state wrestling tournament. Photo contributed by Denise Hammond4 / 6
Reynolds (right) wrestles against Luke Zaiser, of Simley, whom he pinned at 6:00 to win the second-round match. Photo contributed by Denise Hammond5 / 6
CEC's Conner Denman gets a two-point takedown against McCoy Tekautz from Lewiston-Altura-Rushford-Peterson (LARP) in the third-place match of the state wrestling tournament. Denman was defeated 6-4 for a fourth-place finish. Photo contributed by Denise Hammond6 / 6

A trio of Cloquet-Esko-Carlton wrestlers represented the Lumberjacks at the Minnesota State High School wrestling tournament last weekend at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The 'Jacks were led by senior heavyweight Devin Reynolds who shocked the state by finishing second and Conner Denman, who finished fourth in the 152-pound weight class. Daniel Stevens also represented CEC at the state meet for the first time in the 170-pound weight class and lost his only match of the tournament.

"It is just an amazing environment," said an enthusiastic CEC coach Al Denman Monday. "Just to watch these kids perform as well as they did, and in the state tournament environment, was amazing."

Most amazing was the fairy tale run of Reynolds, who subdued some of the state's best 285-pound wrestlers on his run to the championship match.

"Devin had to beat wrestlers who had been highly ranked all year," Coach Denman said. "Nobody in the who's who of wrestling ranking gave Devin a second thought all season, even when he was beating other ranked wrestlers. The fact that Devin beat so many of the top-ranked wrestlers in the state is so gratifying for Devin and all of us who believed in him."

Among the attributes that may have helped Reynolds the most was his quiet nature and laid back attitude.

"Devin's personality is one where he appears to never be stressed out about much," explained Denman. "His semi-final match against number-one-ranked Chandler Kurth (44-1) from Hutchinson was a prime example. Devin was down in the third period by seven points when he turned on the pressure and took advantage of his opponent's poor position and pinned him with 1 second remaining."

"I just got angry," explained Reynolds. "I got a hold of him in a bear hug and pinned him with just a second left."

As for Reynolds, his calmness under fire appeared to be just another walk in the park.

"I just treated it like any other meet," said the quiet Reynolds. "After I pinned the first wrestler, I thought maybe I could get all the way to the championship match, but I just took it one match at a time and didn't get too caught up in all the other stuff."

That "other stuff" was an atmosphere filled with angst, anxiety, excitement and thrilling finishes ... thrilling finishes are exactly what Reynolds had in store a couple of times during the state competition.

Reynolds pulled off a miracle in his quarterfinal match as well, when he trailed by two points and pinned his opponent — eighth-ranked Luke Zaiser of Simley — with two seconds remaining in the match.

In the championship match Reynolds squared off against Foley's Mitch Trigg, a wrestler who had beaten Reynolds earlier in the year. The match was a fantastic final, but in the end Trigg took the win 8-5 over Reynolds.

"He has good hips and that made it tough to take him down," Reynolds said. "It is hard to shoot a heavyweight and I couldn't lift him because he would lay out. He is a very good wrestler."

While Reynolds was riding a wave of fantastic miracle finishes, CEC's 152-pound wrestler, Conner Denman, was fighting back after losing his first match of the tournament. Denman managed to wrestle all the way back into the third-place match before falling 6-4, giving him a fourth place finish at state.

"Conner received a surprisingly low seed ranking in the tournament bracket," said Coach Denman, who is also Conner's dad. "His first match was against the third-seeded wrestler from Lewiston-Altura-Rushford-Peterson (LARP). He had been ranked in the top two spots during the seasonal rankings, so Conner had his hands full for his first match, which he lost 5-4."

Fortunately for Conner, the wrestler who had defeated him won his next match, which allowed Denman to try to wrestle his way back to a top-four finish.

"It was tough after losing that first match, but I managed to win three in a row to have a chance to get back into the top three or four picture," Connor said. "It was a great feeling to come back after the first-round loss and get on the podium."

Ironically, the wrestler Denman faced in the third-place match was the same wrestler who had beaten him the first match.

"The second match was an even more aggressive and hard-fought match than the first between the two," Coach Denman said. "At two points during the bout, wrestling had to stop so Conner could recover from injuries."

For Denman the fourth-place finish was a reward after a massive setback a year ago when he injured his knee just prior to sectionals, causing him to wear a huge brace that limited his mobility. Despite the knee brace, he still managed to fight his way back to the state tournament, but the brace proved to be too much to overcome last year.

"Knowing how far I came after the knee injury makes this even more special," Conner said. "Every match at the state tournament is intense and the further you go into the tournament, the more intense it gets. It was an amazing feeling cheering on Devin and Daniel during their matches, and it was great to get back on the podium again."

Denman was making his third state tournament appearance. He finished fifth as a sophomore and, after last year's knee injury, wanted to finish in the top four. He got his wish.

Despite not winning a match at the tournament, Coach Denman had high praise for Stevens, who was only allowed to wrestle in one match at the tournament.

"Just getting to the state tournament is a major achievement for any wrestler. And for Daniel to get to the state tournament the way he did, wrestling back to a true second match at section, is especially impressive," Denman said. "Just stepping on to the arena floor is all by itself an exhilarating reward. Unfortunately, Daniel couldn't be seeded very highly at the state tournament so the seeding system placed him against very strong wrestlers the first match...which he was. The state tournament does not provide a double-elimination format in Daniel's case, (because) his guy lost his second match and thereby eliminated (Daniel) from further competition."