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Conference wrestling commences in Cloquet

As quiet as the bus ride home from Grand Rapids was on Tuesday night following Cloquet-Esko's 37-30 loss to Hibbing in the Section 7AA wrestling quarterfinals, ending their team season, it was far from any indicator of how the program has performed.

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Cloquet-Esko freshman Dilan Lauer turns Rush City-Braham junior Jesse Anderson onto his back for a pin during Tuesday night's wrestling meet in Esko. The Lumberjacks defeated the Knights 43-33. Dave Harwig/news@pinejournal.com

As quiet as the bus ride home from Grand Rapids was on Tuesday night following Cloquet-Esko’s 37-30 loss to Hibbing in the Section 7AA wrestling quarterfinals, ending their team season, it was far from any indicator of how the program has performed.

Perhaps that was best illustrated last Friday evening when the Lumberjacks hosted the Great River Conference wrestling meet before a crowded Cloquet High School gymnasium for the first time in the cooperative program’s brief varsity history.

Speaking of history, Cloquet-Esko made some of their own last week, placing as runner-up in the six-team conference tournament, welcoming visitors Aitkin, Pine City-Hinckley-Finlayson, Rush City-Braham, Ogilvie and Mille Lacs. In their highest-ever finish, the Lumberjacks totaled 187 points, only behind Class A Aitkin’s 276, as a state hopeful.

Cloquet-Esko crowned Tate Olson, Seth Stevens and Mitchell Borchardt as conference champions, each winning his respective weight division. For Borchardt, an Esko junior at 138 pounds, it was his third consecutive title, but on Tuesday he quickly said he was more thrilled with his team.

“That was really awesome,” said Borchardt, a varsity wrestler since seventh grade. “In seventh grade, I think we were at the bottom of the conference, but now we’re in second place. Next year, I’m thinking we can take first if we can all wrestle like we did on Friday. We all wrestled really well.”

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Such was not the case Tuesday, as the Lumberjacks’ seven-point defeat to the Bluejackets - an opponent they tied with just two weeks prior - ended their team portion of the postseason. Now wrestlers are preparing for the individual sections.

Borchardt, along with Cloquet sophomore Conner Denman, at 145 pounds, have more than 50 combined individual victories this winter and are two of several Lumberjacks with the chance to advance to the Class AA state meet Feb. 26-28.

Denman, the son of Coach Al Denman, placed second in the conference meet - and it was his upset over Aitkin’s state-rated Jerod Novak in the semifinals that drew the loudest cheer.

“It was one of the highlights of the night,” Borchardt said.

Denman also praised the efforts they’ve had as a team. Their 11 wins is a best-ever, marking a first winning record, capped last Friday.

“It was our night,” Denman said. “Getting second is a really big achievement for us and how far that we’ve came.”

“Some years we came in last,” his father added. “We’re still young in this whole process and we’re not getting worse.”

“It’s been a great season,” Borchardt chimed confidently. “We beat some teams we never thought we’d come close to.”

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