Sophomores show potential as 'Jacks rebuild
With only one senior and two juniors, the Cloquet-Esko wrestling team is in a rebuilding phase after last year's team sent numerous wrestlers to the state meet.
The 'Jacks got a chance Saturday, Jan. 6, to find out where they are competitively with some of the best teams in the area when they participated in the Superior Spartan Wrestling Classic.
"It is a very good meet and gives us a chance to see how far our guys have come," CE coach Al Denman said. "Our guys wrestled their hearts out and they are continually taking points and doing things that you wouldn't expect out of such a young group."
Eau Claire Memorial won the event and Superior finished second. Ladysmith and Ashland finished fourth and fifth respectively, while the 'Jacks tied for fifth with Shell Lake in the 10-team field.
Leading Cloquet-Esko was sophomore Griffin Fjeld, who won the 138-pound weight class by beating Jacob Guibord of Eau Claire Memorial 14-8 in the finals.
"Griffin was down in the finals by four points and had to fight back and that is tough to do," Denman said. "He has a lot of mat strength and he is cagey. Griffin just grinds and keeps coming at you and he is always moving forward."
The sophomore eventually wore down Guibord by continually putting his opponent in tough positions on the mat.
Cloquet-Esko also got a solid second-place finish in the 145-pound weight class from Justin Jones, CE's only senior, who wrestled his way into the championship, where he eventually lost to Brandon McClure of Superior.
"The meet was a round robin format where you wrestled everyone in your weight class and up until the final, Justin wrestled extremely well," Denman said. "The wrestler he faced in the finals was the No. 1 seed and had a bit more size and strength. It was just his day."
Jordan Allen, who took third place in the 126-pound division, is just another of the many super sophomores who dot the line up for the 'Jacks.
"Jordan puts in a of of time even after practice," Denman said. "He is super smart and he doesn't put himself into bad situations. As a group our 10th-graders have all been wrestling since they were very young. They've been around and they are going to be a very fun group to watch as they continue to mature mentally and physically."
At 120 pounds, another sophomore, Tyler Harms-Synkiew finished third after suffering a tight loss in round four to Alex McPhee of Proctor. Harms-Synkiew rallied in the third-place match to knock off Jaden Schienebeck of Chequamagon.
"The 120-pound class was just loaded with studs," Denman said. "In the loss to McPhee, they have wrestled each other a ton through the years and they know each other very well. Those type of matches can go either way and it was just McPhee's day on Saturday."
Perhaps lost in the weekend is a host of stellar performances that did not result in podium finishes, but instead helped the team gain points.
"I am very satisfied with the team collectively at this point," Denman said. "All our wrestlers are performing above expectations. We are competitive with teams we should be competitive with and the boys are doing the little things. Sometimes, it is how you lose that can make the difference in a team score. If you avoid getting pinned, if you stay in there and wrestle to the end you give us a chance and these kids are putting their entire heart into the season and I couldn't be more proud."