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Freshmen propel ’Jacks past Ogilvie

CLOQUET — At the end of last Wednesday’s wrestling practice, just a night before Cloquet-Esko’s home opener with Ogilvie, Devan Arntson found out he was wrestling varsity.

Turns out, the Esko freshman enjoys quick decisions.

Arntson had one of the night’s quickest decisions when the varsity rookie pinned senior Joey Otis in the first period and brought a roaring Cloquet gymnasium to its feet en route to the Lumberjacks 49-30 win over the Lions last Thursday.

Arntson, a 5-foot-9, 145-pounder, pinned Otis with 13 seconds left in the opening period, before teammates exploded from their mat-side folding chairs, arms raised.

“I honestly didn’t expect a pin in the first period,” said Arntson. “I had no idea — it’s something I’ll remember.”

The Lumberjacks, meanwhile, are something to see this winter. Teammates Daniel Stevens, David Schober and Evan Pokornowski also had pins, while Conner Denman and River Demars earned third-period victories and Seth Stevens, Fhenix Savage and Reid Borchardt received forfeits as part of a Cloquet-Esko eight-straight-individual-match run, as they pulled away.

The 19-point win was much closer than the dual actually indicated, as the Lumberjacks — in their eighth year of existence — lashed the traditionally victorious Lions, despite three upper weight class forfeits at 195, 220 and 285 pounds.

“We’ve faced them each of the last seven years I’ve been coaching — some of them are greatly improved,” said Ogilvie Coach Adam Halvorson during last week’s entertaining junior varsity match. “Cloquet is really rising.”

Cloquet-Esko Coach Al Denman agreed, highlighting that last week’s enthusiastic crowd was enjoyable to see, as his young, yet successful, team tore their way past their visitors. Denman has been the head coach since the program began.

“It gives me chills — to see success — and the fans in our community supporting the hometown kids,” said Denman, wearing his customary white pressed shirt and purple tie with his boisterous assistant coaches. “I look forward to the day where they can’t seat everybody in here.”

Denman said Cloquet’s old gymnasium, although small, works well in the wrestling world, while their practice facility is “one of the best,” Denman said. Facing the Lions last week, the matches were tight, the tiny concession stand busy and the bleachers booming.

At some points, everyone seemed to be yelling at once.

“We play football up this way quite often. It’s a good atmosphere in this small place, we like coming up here,” said Halvorson, whose team travels from central Minnesota. “Cloquet is fundamentally sound, disciplined and has accountable wrestlers and good kids.”

All of Cloquet-Esko’s kids cheered when Demars, a Cloquet freshman in his first-ever year of wrestling, won a late 9-8 bout against fellow Ogilvie freshman Cole Felde.

Demars, at 6-foot-1 and 171 pounds, was wrestling up in the 182-pound class due to teammate Mitchell Borchardt’s sprained left knee last week, but rallied for points in the waning minutes before a cheer sounded as loud as Arntson’s.

“I looked up at the scoreboard and knew I had to get another point,” said a sweaty Demars — also a fullback on the freshman football team — who was introduced to his newest sport earlier this year by teammate Casey Kulas.

“I’m definitely doing it again next year,” Demars said.

That’s a good thing for Denman and a program that continues to grow on paper and in the community. Like Demars, five freshmen succeeded in last week’s first victory.

“I see a lot of potential,” Denman said. “When these guys are juniors and seniors, they’re going to be dangerous.”

Hence, the quick decision to bring up Arntson.

“It gives me a good feeling — that we’re set up for the future,” said Esko senior Reid Borchardt, cheering loudly all evening long. “The younger guys manned-up — big time.”