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Cloquet-Esko ends team wrestling season

Busing home from Virginia Tuesday night, the Cloquet-Esko wrestling team was again returning empty handed.

The Lumberjacks fell to Hibbing 69-12 in the Section 7AA team quarterfinal, as one of their most lopsided dual defeats of the season eliminated them from further contention.

The 57-point setback was never close, as Cloquet-Esko awarded the Bluejackets 30 free points via forfeits at the 106-, 132-, 195-, 220-pound and heavyweight classes, while their first seven wrestlers competed up in weight due to a lack of time and practice sessions to cut weight before the postseason.

All that said, the Lumberjacks — a program in its eighth year of existence — didn’t look the same as when they beat Hibbing 41-36 just two weeks ago, noted Coach Al Denman.

“There are a number of things that factor in and tonight, we just didn’t match up well with Hibbing,” said Denman, adding that several of his wrestlers were uncharacteristically pinned. “It was an unusual night getting caught on our backs.”

The night’s only victories for the Lumberjacks came from Denman’s son, Conner, a Cloquet freshman up at 140 pounds, and Payden LeBoeuf, a Cloquet senior, above at 182 pounds.

Traveling home afterward, Conner Denman said the team remained positive, as many of the wrestlers are good friends.

“We care about each other,” Conner said in a phone interview.

According to the elder Denman, Conner and Cloquet brothers Daniel and Seth Stevens have outside shots of qualifying for state at the Section 7AA individual meet Feb. 21 and 22 in North Branch. Denman added that 138-pound Esko senior Reid Borchardt — potentially pursuing collegiate wrestling — is a favorite within his weight division.

Unfortunately, Borchardt’s younger brother, 126-pound sophomore Mitchell, is out for the season after suffering a dislocated right shoulder at the end of last week’s practice.

“It was really a travesty,” said Denman of the injury occurring in what he noted was the “last 10 seconds” of last Monday’s practice. “He would have been a state entrant for sure. He’s just an outstanding wrestler — in anybody’s book.”

The Lumberjacks seem to have many like that, as last Friday in Pine City, the up-and-coming program produced three Great River Conference champions in Denman and both Stevens boys.

“They just fight their hearts out,” said Coach Denman of his entire program. “It’s still building, but in two years — maybe even next year — this team is going to be a force to be reckoned with.”

Perhaps then the bus ride will include the section trophy.

“I’m waiting for that day,” Conner Denman said.