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Prep wrestling: CEC girls are pioneers on the mat

Kloey Jensen and Morgan Browne of the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton wrestling team are eager to make history, competing in the inaugural all-girls postseason tournament(s) sanctioned by the MSHSL.

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Cloquet-Esko-Carlton’s Kloe Jensen, left, holds onto Morgan Browne as they work on escapes during practice at Cloquet High School on Monday afternoon, Dec. 20, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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Merely a week before the start of the wrestling season, an unexpected announcement over the PA system at Cloquet High School caught the attention of sophomores Kloey Jensen and Morgan Browne.

In light of the Minnesota State High School League’s approval of all-girls postseason wrestling tournaments for the first time this season, the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton team was seeking female participants to sign up for the growing sport.

With little hesitation, Browne and Jensen jumped at the unique opportunity.

“I thought it was cool because a lot of times girls aren’t accepted into the other sports, like football and all,” Browne said. “When I saw that, I thought it was cool. That’s mostly why I joined.”

Jensen had been interested in wrestling long before the announcement, but in the absence of an all-girls wrestling competition, her mom had been apprehensive about her participation.

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RELATED: Prep wrestling preview: Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Lumberjacks

“I kind of knew my mother wouldn't allow it if I did (sign up for wrestling), but having that (new rule) kind of made it more comfortable in general,” Jensen said.

The adoption of a strictly-female postseason by the MSHSL came on May 11 after the proposal was approved by a 44-4 vote by the board.

Under the new bylaw, female wrestlers will continue to practice with the boys and are eligible to compete in duals against boys and girls during the regular season. Unlike in year’s past, however, female wrestlers will have the option to compete in a sanctioned all-girls postseason competition, consisting of the individual section and state tournaments.

The girls state wrestling tournament will run at the same time as the boys in March 2022 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

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Head wrestling coach Al Denman instructs Kloey Jensen, left, as she works out with Morgan Browne during practice at Cloquet High School on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

CEC wrestling coach Al Denman has been a long-standing advocate for the addition of a strictly-female postseason competition. For years, he wondered why some in the wrestling community were reluctant towards its inclusion, especially with the growth in participation it would provide.

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“I don’t know why the male wrestling community has been so hesitant about it, especially with struggling numbers,” Denman said. “Let’s fill our wrestling rooms up with humans, I don’t care what their gender is. Let's give our sport a boost.”

Denman’s daughter, Jolynne, was an accomplished wrestler for the Lumberjacks under the tutelage of her father, and alongside fellow 2013 graduate Kristina Erickson. The three embarked on multiple trips to Oklahoma City, where they competed in the USA Wrestling Women’s National Tournament in the absence of a sanctioned state tournament.

Erickson and Jolynne Denman’s participation years ago has helped pave the way for Browne and Jensen, who have latched on to the sport and continue making strides in practices.

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Cloquet-Esko-Carlton’s Kloey Jensen, left, and Morgan Browne take a break from practice to pose for a photograph in the doorway to the wrestling room at Cloquet High School on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“I’ve enjoyed learning the new stuff, because a lot of the sports that I’ve started in the past have all kind of consisted of the same stuff,” Browne said. “You’re always learning something new, and that was one of my favorite parts about it.”

Jensen has enjoyed the fitness aspect of the sport and pushing to get better.

“It’s very straining, but in a good way. It really helps you be fit,” she said.

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Teammates have welcomed the newcomers with open arms and are quick to assist and teach techniques.

“I think they’re looked upon as sisters for the most part,” Denman said. “Nobody has a problem practicing with them. ‘Oh I can’t wrestle a girl’ — there’s none of that going on. I tell the guys be a teacher, not a pounder. Yeah, you could beat the tar out of ‘em if you wanted to, but are they learning anything? So they have a responsibility to teach and I see that.”

Browne and Jensen have already put their new skills to the test after competing in matches against fellow female wrestlers at the Lakeville North Tournament, and the Paul Bunyan Tournament in Brainerd.

Their rapid growth has caught the eye of Denman, though their willingness to put themselves out there competing in a new and challenging sport like wrestling is what’s really stuck out.

“What I admire about them the most is that they’re courageous,” Denman said. "First off, coming to a sport as physical as wrestling, a boys dominated sport, and then going to tournaments or dual matches where their only option to wrestle is against another boy still ... there aren’t many girls walking any halls in any school that are willing to do that.

“The fact that they’re doing it now is a testament to just how awesome they are as people ... and I think that they are going to be role models and give comfort to other females considering wrestling,” he added. “If they can do it, well then maybe it’s safe for me to do it too.”

Related Topics: WRESTLING
Jake Przytarski is a reporter for the Cloquet Pine Journal covering a mix of news and sports.
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