'Jacks stun Tigers for first victory this season

Watching 130-pound Nelson Hall wrestle last week, Al Denman figured his first-year varsity competitor could change Cloquet-Esko's wrestling season with a victory.

Watching 130-pound Nelson Hall wrestle last week, Al Denman figured his first-year varsity competitor could change Cloquet-Esko's wrestling season with a victory.

The rookie Hall pinned his opponent. And Denman's crew was victorious for the first time this winter.

Following the eighth-grader's pin, Cloquet-Esko cruised its way to a stunning 51-28 Great River Conference dual win over Rush City-Braham last Thursday in Rush City. According to Denman, Hall's win was the key.

"You could tell there was a point during the match that things could turn for us," Denman recalled. "Nelson won and everyone on our side was jumping up and down. The energy was noticeable. That's when I think everybody in there noticed."

Hall, a first-year transfer from Washington state, gave the Lumberjacks an 18-10 lead with his pin. From then, Cloquet-Esko went on a 33-18 run. The Lumberjacks won nine of the 13 bouts over the Tigers, including the final four.


The win was a memorable one.

"To get one is so important for them," said Denman. "They've worked so hard. It just goes to show the depth of their training. It was very encouraging to see, especially for the younger wrestlers. They now know that we can win."

Seniors Marcus Hunt and Jake Baker, freshman Trevor Lowther and seventh-grader Mitchell Borchardt also posted victories over the Tigers. Seniors Kyle Langenbrunner and Tahkoa Smith, junior Jolynne Denman and sophomore Kristina Erickson received forfeiture wins.

Denman mentioned that of the 13 wrestlers he sent out to compete last week, half a dozen were first-year kids to the sport. Denman said four of them posted points.

"I'm so proud of them!" said Denman. "Last week was very exciting. Perhaps they could pull it together for another win. It's a tough road, though."

If the Lumberjacks hope to do so, they'll have to continue to put in the time at practice. And that's not easy. In fact, according to Denman, it's "not for everyone."

"We have two-and-a-half hour practices," he said. "We include wrestling, weight training and a lot of conditioning, sometimes up to 30 minutes. It's very difficult."

That doesn't mention their dieting throughout the season, too.


"These kids have to manage their weight and stay in shape," Denman continued. "They just can't go home and indulge on whatever they want. It's fruits, vegetables and not too much more; their diets are nothing fancy."

Keeping weight and working hard have kept the Lumberjacks competitive for the lone Minnesota wrestling school in the Lake Superior area. In addition to Tuesday's win against the Tigers, the 'Jacks had a pair of close bouts against Rush City-Braham and Virginia earlier this season.

Cloquet-Esko has also fared well in their tournament play, including a solid performance at the Royalton-Upsala Invite two weeks ago. Saturday, the Lumberjacks went to Bemidji and struggled.

"That was a different ball game," said Denman.

The Lumberjacks were plagued at the varsity level with the illness of top-wrestler Jake Baker at 171 pounds. Baker won the tournament a year ago. If he hadn't been sick over the weekend, his coach was confident he would have defended his championship.

"From what we saw over there, he would have won it again," Denman said.

Denman's daughter, Jolynne, as well as Erickson and Smith were the trio of wrestlers at the varsity level in Bemidji. All three lost their only two matches of the weekend. In the junior varsity bracket, however, Borchardt took home a gold medal, while Hunt - who was in just his first-ever varsity match last week against the Tigers - claimed a silver.

Cloquet-Esko will host Hibbing in a dual at home at 6 p.m. Thursday. They're trying to organize a possible tournament in Grand Rapids for Saturday, and will travel to Nashwauk-Keewatin-Greenway at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

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