Lumberjacks lack numbers, not talent

Wrestler Jordan Allen: 'Really, what we lack in size, we make up in aggression'

Cloquet seniors Jordan Allen, Zeb Wehr and Griffin Fjeld have all been wrestling since kindergarten. Now, in their final prep season as Lumberjacks, the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton trio are all state hopefuls. (Tyler Korby / Pine Journal)

CLOQUET — With his wrestlers practicing tirelessly in the background earlier this week, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton coach Al Denman channeled his inner Theodore Roosevelt.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are,” said Denman, quoting the 26th U.S. president. “That’s what we’re doing here.”

Such was the scene Monday evening, Dec. 9, when Denman directed drills and instruction to just 10 wrestlers on their purple-mated floor. Granted, a dozen Lumberjacks were participating at a junior varsity meet in Virginia, yet CEC is still two handfuls of athletes thinner this season than last.

“We’re making the best of it,” said Denman, noting roughly 10 fewer wrestlers didn’t come out this winter. “You can’t look around at what you don’t have. Look around at what you do have and what you do with it.”

And, with what the Lumberjacks do have, is impressive.


That starts with several more-than-strong seniors in Zeb Wehr, Griffin Fjeld and Jordan Allen. The muscly trio began wrestling in kindergarten and haven’t slowed down.

A year ago, Fjeld, Wehr and Allen placed third, fourth and fifth in Section 7AA, respectively — just steps away from qualifying for their first state tournament appearance.

All three are looking to rewrite that history this winter, all the while centering a CEC program that sports 24 wrestlers in all.

“You just go as hard as you can every day,” said the 5-foot-6, 152-pound Wehr, wearing a bag of ice on his right shoulder Monday. “We’re pretty determined.”

That relentless mindset was best shown Thursday, Dec. 5, when the Lumberjacks defeated Crosby-Ironton and Staples-Motley in a quadrangular, despite not filling five weight classes — or in other words, forfeiting 30 points before the matches began.

In fact, of the nine wrestlers competing in 18 matches in those duals, CEC won 17 of them.

“It shows that we’re going to do everything that we can,” said the 5-foot-7, 138-pound Fjeld, who, along with his father, Jake, and three younger brothers, Deekan, Bohdon, Cavan, comprised nearly 30% of the people at practice Monday.

“Really, what we lack in size, we make up in aggression,” added Allen, a 5-foot-8, 145-pounder. “Our team doesn’t have as many people this year, but in the matches that we do wrestle, we win more than not. I guess that’s the goal.”


Allen was wrestling against Wehr on Monday, a change from the past, as his fellow senior practice partner Tyler Harms-Synkiew is currently sidelined due to nagging knees and a clavicle injury.

RELATED CONTENT: Wrestling: CEC's Harms-Synkiew statebound Once walking onto the coach bus last weekend following his Section 7AA wrestling performance, it didn't take long for his Cloquet-Esko-Carlton teammates to give Tyler Harms-Synkiew a standing round of applause.
Denman said his 138-pound state qualifier from last year is “very unlikely” to wrestle at all in his final prep season.

“The timing couldn’t be worse,” said Denman of his lone state entrant from a season ago. “It’s really heartbreaking. You just hate to see it.”

Allen added that his good friend Harms-Synkiew was the scorekeeper last week, still traveling with the team and attending daily practices and events when time allows. Allen said his absence is something he and the Lumberjacks are “still getting used to,” but is also something giving them even more fuel.

“It’s a little extra motivation to go as hard as you can, because sometimes you don’t always get to do things forever,” Allen said. “It’s nice to see (Tyler) here and know that he is still there for us, because he has been.”

A grueling tournament schedule sees CEC at the Brainerd tournament this weekend, Dec. 13-14. They were in Lakeville North just a week ago. The Lumberjacks’ first home event is Jan. 9.

As for Section 7AA, newcomer Foley moves in, a squad that Denman dubbed “a perennial power” and “the real deal.”

“No team scares me,” said the confident Wehr, also this past fall’s Minnesota state mountain biking individual champion.


Perhaps some more state experiences are on the horizon for Denman’s several seniors. Asking if all three of his senior stalwarts could qualify for St. Paul come February, and the program’s only-ever coach didn’t hesitate.

“I’ve been watching these boys since they were in kindergarten,” Denman said. “It’s a very strong possibility.”

“The goal is to get as many of our guys down there as possible. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a lot of people and some never get to experience it. We’re going to fight as well as we can,” Allen said. “That would be the peak of these last 13 years.”

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