'Jacks focus on individual section matches
February 17, 2023
With only seven wrestlers able to compete, the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton wrestling team took sixth place in the six-team Great River Conference tournament last week in Isle.
"There are 14 different weight classes so when you wrestle with half a team that is tough," said CEC longtime coach Al Denman. "You don't only need 14 wrestlers, but they have to be of the right weight, so our guys did the best they could."
The Lumberjacks top finisher was eighth-grader Aiden Theisen, who finished second in the conference at 113 pounds.
"Aiden is a very skilled athlete," said Denman. "It is tough as an eighth-grader because despite being the same weight as the older kid he wrestled against, they still have two or three more years of experience on the mat and strength."
CEC was without its top wrestler, junior Warren Hietala, who has been battling an injury. Normally, Hietala would wrestle at 152 pounds and would challenge for the conference title.
The 'Jacks are a young squad that features no seniors. Many are still learning what it is like to wrestle at the varsity level.
"We wrestled a lot of younger guys in the lighter classes," said Denman. "We are just going through that cycle where teams that we used to beat now have full - or close to full - teams, and we are down with our numbers, but that happens in high school sports. Right now we have to play the long game and look to the future and develop all these young kids we have."
CEC wrestled with four eighth-graders, one freshman and two juniors in the conference meet. Cavan Fjeld at 106 pounds, Theisen at 113, Brenden Malloy at 126 and Kaiden High at 160 pounds are all eighth-graders. The lone freshman is Aiden Reuvers at 152 pounds. Alex Comer and Bohdon Fjeld are the juniors who wrestled last week.
"I am encouraged by the younger kids and their attitude," Denman said. "They come to work every night and don't complain."
Team sectionals will be held this weekend. Individual sectionals are set for Feb. 25.
"Since we don't have a full team, we have elected not to go to the team sectionals," Denman said. "So right now, until February 25, we are focusing on more of the foundational skills and techniques. We have a good idea of our individual weaknesses at this point of the season, so the next two weeks we will spend on sharpening up our strengths and try to teach them how to avoid their vulnerabilities."
At this point it is not known if Hietala will be able to return at full strength. If he is, it will give the 'Jacks some much needed depth and experience.
"Warren is one of our older wrestlers and he is our most-skilled wrestler," said Denman. "Right now, he is a little dinged up, but we will have to see what happens. This next two weeks gives everyone a chance to heal up and be at full strength."