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Small in numbers, but mighty on the mat

The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton wrestling team may be low in numbers, but they are high in talent. Last Tuesday the Lumberjacks took on Mille Lacs and came away with four wins in the five matches that took place at Cloquet High School small gymnasium.

"That's kind of been our M.O.," said coach Al Denman. "We just don't have the overall number of wrestlers that most schools do, so we lose points for every weight class that we can't put someone on the mat. But our kids that do get out on the mat are very good and take care of business."

Tuesday's meet featured a series of junior varsity matches followed by the five varsity matches. The setting was exciting with fans packed in the stands and wrestlers taking the center of the mat under a dramatic spotlight.

"The one thing about wrestling is you can't run and hide when the official says 'wrestle,' " Denman said. "It takes a pretty special athlete to go out in front of all those fans, parents and coaches and be willing to lay it all on the line."

Leading off the varsity matches for the 'Jacks was seventh-grader Aiden Theisen at 106 pounds. In a short match, Theisen pinned his opponent through a quick takedown and then some quick technical moves that put him on top for the pin.

"For his age, he is a very smooth operator and technically sound," Denman said. "He has a lot of mat sense and is mature beyond his years."

Next up was Bodon Fjeld for CEC at 138 pounds. Fjeld dominated his opponent and led 11-2 before getting caught and suddenly pinned.

"That's wrestling," said Denman. "Nine out of 10 times that Bo wrestles that kid he wins, but this time it came down to the small things and he got himself in a position he couldn't get out of and got pinned. Trust me: he'll work on it and in his next match he'll be ready for another win."

Sophomore Warren Hietela was next for CEC wrestling at 145 pounds. Hietela also was able to pin his opponent in a short match.

"He is a really skilled kid and will go places once he gets more mat time," Denman said. "He is very quick, smart and crafty and real quick on his feet. He's also a good rider and once he gets top position he won't let you get away."

At 152 pounds, senior Deeken Fjeld put on a show for CEC by completely dominating his opponent and pinning him early in the first period.

"Deeken is the best wrestler on the team, but he's been battling an injured foot," said Denman. "He hasn't been able to practice much, but it was pretty impressive how he dominated with so little time on the practice mat."

The final match of the night featured sophomore Carter Horvat wrestling at 182 pounds while giving up 10 pounds to his opponent. In the match of the night, Horvat mauled the Mille Lacs wrestler, but made a high-stakes gamble that put him in a bad position and nearly pinned at the end of the second round. Horvat was able to arch his back and stayed out of the pin. He then came back in the third period and took control until finally pinning his opponent to take the win.

"What a story Carter is," said Denman. "He is just so physical, strong, and courageous and, when it comes time to pull the trigger, he goes for it. He missed his grasp on the way to a hold, but because he is such a phenomenal athlete he was able to withstand the mistake and come back and win by a pin."

While CEC officially lost the meet because of forfeited weight classes, the 'Jacks still impressed by winning four of the five matches - and nearly all five matches - in which they put wrestlers on the mat.

In junior varsity action, the Lumberjacks were also impressive as they took numerous wins by pinning opponents - serving notice they have some talent coming up through the ranks.

"We have a stellar group of seventh- and eighth-graders that are ready to make their mark at the varsity level pretty soon," Denman said. "We are seeing a lot of those kids perform well and if they keep improving we'll see some very good wrestlers coming through the program."

Along with Aiden Theisen, the Lumberjacks have some impressive young wrestlers in that seventh-grade age group, including Jack Horvat, Cavan Fjeld, Brennan Malloy and Kaiden High.

"Cavan (Fjeld) is just an amazing scrambler and he will sooner or later catch you making a mistake," Denman said. "Jack (Horvat) is just pure power and a brawler; he basically says 'we are gonna get real physical here and you better be ready because I'm coming for you.' Brennan (Malloy) is just one of those quiet kids who doesn't talk very often, but get him on the mat and you are shocked at how competitive and good he is."

Another impressive wrestler is eighth-grader Damian Neucomb, who won his weight bracket last weekend at Chisago Lakes.

"He has shown great improvement," Denman said. "He is just so dedicated to his weight and training that it is starting to pay off."

Freshman Brodie Wilson is a 200-pounder who has perhaps made more strides than anyone in the program and is on the cusp of showing special things.

"He is now to the point where he is just about ready to win and he gets caught," Denman said. "Very soon he will take the next step and then look out he will just take off."

The Lumberjacks also have two girls wrestling this season: sophomores Kloe Jenson and Morgan Browne.

"Both of them have won some matches and it is great to have them on the team," Denman said. "They aren't afraid to wrestle and they are both physically and mentally tough."

Cloquet hosts the Section 7AA individual meet Feb. 18-19 at the Cloquet Middle School gym.

"If you've never been to a section meet, it's very high-intensity and a lot of fun," Denman said.