CEC grapplers wrestle their way to state
The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton wrestling team is sending three wrestlers to the state wrestling tournament! CEC's Devin Reynolds won the 285-pound championship, while Connor Denman and Daniel Stevens placed true-second in the 152- and 170-pound weight ...
The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton wrestling team is sending three wrestlers to the state wrestling tournament! CEC's Devin Reynolds won the 285-pound championship, while Connor Denman and Daniel Stevens placed true-second in the 152- and 170-pound weight classes, respectively, to qualify for the state meet to be held Thursday through Saturday, March 2-4, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Reynolds provided perhaps the biggest roar of the night when he upset top-seeded Colton Hellman of Princeton in the championship match at 285 pounds.
"It was probably the most anticipated match of the evening. The heavyweight final featured second-seed Devin Reynolds taking on the top seed in Hellman," recalled CEC coach Al Denman. "Devin had pinned all three of his opponents in less than a minute and a half of the first period and then Devin dominated the final match against Hellman."
Reynolds finished the match against Hellman by taking a 5-0 shutout win and the match ended with Reynolds putting Hellman's shoulders to the mat for a pin, but time had run out.
Conner Denman's championship match at 152 pounds was also one of the most anticipated matches of the evening as it featured Denman against Tim Bialka of Princeton. Both are highly ranked in the state and both have made multiple trips to the state tournament.
"After a scoreless first period, Conner gave up a point for two false starts and an escape point but he quickly tied the match with a two-point takedown followed by Bialka getting a point for an escape," Coach Denman said of his son's match. "During the third period, Conner earned an escape point, gave up a two-point takedown and followed up with an escape point, but then gave up another false start point to end the match down 6-4."
Conner Denman had defeated Jon Smith of Mora 4-2 in his first match and ended up taking true-second by default, thereby qualifying for yet another state tournament.
At 172 pounds, Stevens had an extremely tough road to the state tournament when he lost in the semifinals to Brandon Firsby of Grand Rapids in a technical foul. Firsby then defeated Josh Lange of Pine City in the championship match and Stevens then came back to defeat Ladell Nash of Hibbing to take third place. Stevens then was able to challenge Lange for a true-second match and Stevens defeated Lange 5-1 for true-second and also qualified for the state tournament.
"Making it through a true-second match is usually very hard to accomplish because you are a lower-seeded wrestler in the bracket and you have to take third and then hope the guy that beat you - in this case Firsby - wins so you can then challenge the guy that he had beaten for true-second place," explained Coach Denman. "Firsby's victory opened the door for Daniel to challenge Lange. Daniel and the Pine City wrestler had split matches in the two previous meets and then Daniel punched his ticket to the state tournament with a smartly wrestled 5-1 victory."
The honor of wrestling in the state tournament to represent CEC is not lost on Coach Denman, who was ecstatic over the accomplishments of all three of his state tournament entrants.
"I am very proud of these young men," he said. "They are the personification of how persistent hard work and courage can result in the reward of goals met. To reach the state tournament, each one of these guys has endured seasons of weight training, off season wrestling, grueling weight management and withstood the stresses of hand-to-hand combat ... most of which would break the will of most non-wrestling athletes," said Denman. "Only 16 guys in each of 14 weight classes gets to go to the state tournament, so just making it is a really big deal. Those who make it are the toughest of the tough, which says a lot about the character of our guys."
Since the inception of the CEC program in 2006-2007, there have been 12 state entrants including the three wrestlers from this year's squad.
"These three wrestlers, along with the rest of our team members, demonstrate that our program is on the right track and will be one of the more dominant wrestling teams in the region very soon," said the excited coach. "This will be the third year in a row that the Lumberjacks have sent wrestlers to the state tournament, which provides the younger wrestlers with outstanding role models to emulate for their own successes in the sport. Success creates success and I think as a pre-K-through-12 program we have finally crossed that tipping point where we can expect even more state participants in the future."