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Wrestling team looking for best season yet

If preseason recognition gives any indication of success in the regular season, the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton wrestling team should be tough for the opposition to contend with this year. The 'Jacks return a number of wrestlers who moved on to the stat...

If preseason recognition gives any indication of success in the regular season, the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton wrestling team should be tough for the opposition to contend with this year. The ’Jacks return a number of wrestlers who moved on to the state tournament last year as well as a team with a lot of depth.

“This is the first time that we’ve been mentioned in the Minnesota wrestling periodical newspaper with a ‘lean and mean’ status,” commented CEC coach Al Denman. “That status means we are a team who could likely be ranked in the top 10 or 12 teams in the state in Class AA as the season progresses.”

Denman sees the ranking as another progression in the evolution of the wrestling program and feels that if his team can stay healthy and eligible they should contend for the section championship against Mora, Milaca and Grand Rapids.

“I expect that this team will repeat as Great River Conference Champions this year,” said Denman. “Last year was our first team championship and first tournament championship. We had to beat a very deep and experienced Aitkin team to win the title and I expect that we will have upwards of six All-Conference champions.”

Helping to lead the deeply talented squad is a trio of wrestlers who are ranked in the top 10 in the state in Class AA. Tate Olson at 120 pounds, Conner Denman at 152 pounds and Devin Reynolds in the heavyweight division have all had success in the past and hope to take the next step at the state tournament level. Conner Denman is a two-time state entrant who finished fifth two years ago. Last year Denman suffered a significant knee injury six weeks before individual sections and still managed to qualify for state despite wearing a large knee brace. Olson also wrestled at state last year for the first time, but did not place in the tournament. Reynolds is coming off an excellent football season and is expected to dominate the conference in his weight class this year.

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There are other notable wrestlers including Tyler Harms-Synkiew at 106 pounds, Zeb Wehr at 113, Griffin Fjeld at 126, Justin Jones at 138, Daniel Stevens at 160 pounds - who has jumped three weight classes this year - Evan Pokornowski at 182 and Dylan Lauer at 220 pounds. All have excellent chances of placing in the top two in the sectionals and making their first state tournament appearance according to Denman.

“Our depth is better than at any time in our past,” suggested coach Denman. “I have confidence in all of our wrestlers. Filling all 14 weight classes is a key if you want to win. No team goes to state or wins many dual meets if they have an empty weight class. It’s like starting a basketball game by spotting the other team six points for every empty weight class. Last year we forfeited the 195-pound class all year - that should not be a problem this year. Luke Konietzko and Trenton Russell are finally healthy enough to help fill the critical 195-pound class so we won’t have to forfeit that class this season.”

The CEC program is entering its 11th year as a varsity program. Denman feels the team finally has enough grizzled and battle-tested veterans that they are a confident group who will have confidence to challenge anyone in the section. The team is excited about proving it as well. Another plus for the program is a solid group of ninth-grade wrestlers who have come up through the club ranks.

Many of those wrestlers have been on the mat since kindergarten.

“Tyler Harms-Synkiew, Zeb Wehr, Griffin Fjeld and Jordan Allen will be skilled enough to stay with much older wrestlers,” Denman said. “That will help our team in outscoring the competition.”

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