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CEC crowns five conference wrestling champs

Cloquet senior Connor Denman won the Great River Conference (GRC) crown at 152 pounds this weekend and was awarded the GRC Most Valuable Wrestler. In this photo from the 2015-16 season, Denman completes a takedown of Crosby-Ironton's Gabe Ryappy. Pine Journal File Photo1 / 4
CEC's Zeb Wehr finished first at 113 pounds.2 / 4
Cloquet junior Devin Reynolds finished first in the Great River Conference meet Thursday in the 285-pound weight class. In this photo from earlier this year, Reynolds pins Rush City-Braham's Erik Eskuri as referee Tim Prosen watches with a close eye to call the match. Pine Journal File Photo3 / 4
CEC's Tyler Harms-Sinkiew finished first in the 106-pound division.4 / 4

A furious finish nearly overcame a slow start for the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton wrestling team at the Great River Conference Tournament held last Thursday. The 'Jacks trailed Aitkin by 20 points going into the final round and rebounded to nearly win the tournament. Aitkin managed to win by the slimmest of margins, 199-196 over Cloquet, while Rush City-Braham took third, Pine City-Hinckley-Finlayson was fourth, Mille Lacs was fifth and Ogilvie placed sixth.

"We came very close to winning the whole thing and we were missing guys in three weight classes," said CEC coach Al Denman. "If we had just one more guy we would have scored enough points to win the conference title."

The strong conference finish was important in a season that has seen its share of sporadic performances by the team.

"The team is showing more competitive maturity at this late stage of the season which what we coaches are striving for," Denman said. "The team is finally healthy, but we had a number of guys leave the team. As a result we are empty at three weight classes which makes it impossible for the team to win duals (dual meets) and tournaments, but that hasn't stopped this team from competing."

The Lumberjacks crowned five conference champions including the Great River Conference Most Valuable Wrestler Conner Denman in the 152-pound weight division. CEC's Tyler Harms-Sinkiew finished first in the 106-pound division; Zeb Wehr finished first at 113 pounds; Justin Jones took the title at 138 pounds, and in the 285-pound weight class, Devin Reynolds took the conference title. At 126 pounds, CEC's Tate Olson took second place while third-place finishes went to Griffin Fjeld at 120 pounds, Braden Senarighi at 145, Devan Arntson at 160, Daniel Stevens at 170 and Luke Konietzko at 195.

"This team closed a 20-point gap going into the final round at conference and surged to within three points of the conference title," Coach Denman said. "None of our wrestlers placed lower than third and we had five all-conference, first-place champions. The team scored four pins and two major decisions in the championship round, which is a great indication of their will to compete."

Prior to the final round Denman put the pressure squarely on the team's shoulders by telling them the point differential and then challenging them to catch Aitkin in the final round. They nearly did, led by Braden Senarighi of CEC over Dylan Quade of Aitkin at 145 pounds and Devan Arntson over Aitkin's Logan Cluff at 160, both with pinfalls.

"Braden and Devan came up big with pins against Aitkin wrestlers," Denman said. "Those, coupled with Conner's (Denman) pin at 152, Devin Reynolds' pin at heavyweight and a major decisions (greater than 8 points) added enough bonus points for us to make things dramatic and exciting."

The Lumberjacks hoped to parlay the success in the conference meet into more success in the sectionals. They started well in the team competition, which started with subsections Tuesday. Cloquet beat Proctor 54-8 in the first round in Cloquet, but then lost in the second round to Grand Rapids 53-25.

Still, CEC has a legitimate shot at advancing a number of wrestlers to the state tournament.

"If we can carry this kind of wrestling into the practice room for the next week and a half and sharpen our minds and skill just a bit more, I think we have two, perhaps three guys who can make it out of individual sections and head to the state tournament," Denman said. "This group of young men has shown through this season that they are tough and not afraid to step in the ring and take on anyone. That kind of fighting spirit is something they have developed over a season with all kinds of ups and downs, victories and heartaches. Most are too young to have reached their potential yet, which makes the future very bright for CEC wrestling."