It's always a special moment when a wrestler walks off the mat after winning a state title and gives his coach a hug.
Kasson-Mantorville head coach Jamie Heidt enjoyed four of those special moments Saturday at Xcel Energy Center during the Class AA state individual tournament.
Those hugs all were special, but it seems unlikely Heidt will ever forget the embrace he shared with Brady Berge on Saturday evening.
That's because there will never be another Brady Berge.
The K-M senior finished his career just as he started it ... on top of the podium.
Berge was special in every sense of the word. He possessed a rare combination of elite talent, natural athleticism, relentless work ethic, heart, determination and humility.
"He will always have a special place in my heart," Heidt said. "We spent a lot of time together, and there's a part of me that never wants to see a kid like that go. I don't want to walk into that practice room and not see him in there. It's mostly because of the kind of kid he is. I loved being around him, I loved what he brought to this team. He made everyone around him better. He's going to be incredibly missed."
Berge's high school career was legendary. The Penn State commit wrapped up his fourth state title Saturday, recording pins or technical falls in every match at state.
Berge's fourth and final state title is one he'll never forget, partially because of what happened at last year's state tournament. Berge suffered a devastating broken leg in the semifinals. The injury required surgery, screws, a metal plate and months of rehab.
But somehow, Berge came back even better in 2016-17.
"If (the broken leg) didn't happen to him, I don't know if he's as good as he was this year," Heidt said. "I don't know if he ever gets to the level he's at right now. He's so much better in every way, I just don't think it happens without the injury."
Prior to the injury, Berge had won 146 consecutive matches and had a career record of 234-4. Had the injury not happened, Berge likely would have won the final 196 matches of his career. Despite that injury default loss, Berge finishes his high school career with a record of 282-5.
The wins total (282) and winning percentage (98.2) both rank No. 2 in Minnesota history.
Saturday, Berge made quick work of his semifinals opponent and then recorded a 25-10 technical fall win over Collin Steuber of Fairmont/Martin County West in the 160-pound finals.
After the win, Berge couldn't help but look back at his injury.
"That really taught me to enjoy the moment," Berge said. "That was my goal coming into the season, to enjoy every practice, every tournament, every match. Every time you come off the mat and have your hand raised, you need to cherish those moments. So this (state tournament), I really tried to soak it all in."
While the hug with Heidt was very special following his match, Berge also had a special moment with his father, Kevin.
"My dad has been in my corner for every match since preschool," Berge said. "He's also very, very important to me when it comes to wrestling. I trust him with everything."
Following the win, Berge received a standing ovation from the Xcel Energy Center crowd of nearly 10,000. "When you see that, I think it's because you're a fun kid to watch, and I take that as a compliment and I really appreciate it too," he said.
Ryan, Schorr on top
Fellow K-M seniors Keaten Schorr and Noah Ryan also wrapped up state titles Saturday. It was the second state crown for both wrestlers.
Schorr won his first state title as a sophomore. But he was denied a state title last season and went on to finish fifth.
In the offseason, Schorr was determined to not allow that letdown to happen again. He succeeded.
"Keaten is a worker," Heidt said. "We talk about Brady Berge's work ethic a lot, but Keaten was right there with him. Whether it was a 6 a.m. practice, summer workouts, whatever, Keaten was there. He looked like a kid who could bounce back from adversity, and that's what he did."
Schorr put forth an almost workman-like effort at the state tournament. He dominated the competition, making few mistakes on his way to the crown at 138. His closest match of the tournament was his 8-1 win in the finals over top-seeded Morgan Fuenffinger of Hibbing.
"Keaten is a gamer; he takes the ups and downs of this sport well," Heidt said. "But he's always figured out how to peak at the right time."
Ryan wrapped up his wildly successful career with a second consecutive title.
Ryan had a very tough Zach Jakes of Mankato West in the 220 finals. Jakes came in undefeated, and he finished second at state a year ago.
"We knew that kid hit like a freight train," Heidt said. "And he did. We just had to match it. We told Noah we want action, one way or another. When action happens, when the fur flies, that's when Noah Ryan wins. That was shown out there in that match."
Jakes consistently got to Ryan's legs throughout the match, but Ryan won almost every scramble and came away with an 11-5 win.
"That's Noah, he creates that action and he scores off it," Heidt said. "What a fun match. I don't remember ever having as much fun sitting in that chair as I did (Saturday)."
Kennedy gets No. 1
Freshman Patrick Kennedy secured his first state title at 170. The state title was even more impressive considering a back injury nearly kept Kennedy off the mat permanently.
"When the injury happened and I thought I was done forever, that was scary and I was down in the dumps for a month," Kennedy said. "When I got going again, it felt great. I was down at the bottom of the barrel, thinking I would never step on the mat again, so when I was able to get back out there, I knew I needed to dominate."
Now, the K-M youngster has the makings of the program's next superstar.
Kennedy showed off his skill set all weekend, and he met unbeaten Solomon Nielsen of Luverne in the finals at 170.
Kennedy controlled most of the match, giving up a late takedown, but otherwise determining the pace in a 9-6 victory for his first gold medal at state.
"Wrestling with guys like Brady and Noah every day in practice, it beats you down but also makes you better," Kennedy said. "Brady beats on me every time we go live, but I get 10 times stronger mentally. I'm not going to wrestle anybody out here tougher than Brady or bigger or more athletic than Noah. If I can score on those guys, and I maybe scored on Brady three times all year, then I feel like I can score on anyone."
Kennedy has lofty goals moving forward. He'd like to improve his leadership skills and become a leader in the room.
"I also want to win three more state titles and three more team state titles," he said.
The sport of wrestling can be categorized as an individual sport. In the end, each match is a one-on-one encounter that can be won or lost by a person’s individual achievements. For the Kasson-Mantorville wrestling team, that individual aspect caused the KoMets to be put in the discussion as one of the most dominant teams in the history of the state. With standouts like Brady Berge, Noah Ryan, Keaten Schorr and Patrick Kennedy, who would claim individual state championships over the course of the Minnesota State Wrestling Tournament.
But make no mistake about it. This is a dominant team and that was proven as much in the team tournament. With crushing victories over Worthington and Foley in their back pocket, the KoMets had Simley on the ropes. Knowing that a pin would seal their second straight Class AA State Championship and third in the past five years, head coach Jamie Heidt and lineup guru Kevin Berge made an unorthodox choice for the 170-pound match when they called upon Dalton Andrist.
“We preach that everybody is important on this team and that everybody matters,” Heidt explained. “We’re going to give you opportunities and when you get those opportunities, we expect you to seize them. He knows what his job is and he was ready for the call all day long.”
When Andrist hit the mat, he came out with the same killer instinct that existed throughout the KoMets’ lineup all season long. After the match went into the second period, Andrist would become aggressive and get Blake Holzem on his back for the dual-clinching pin and the K-M bench became completely unglued in support of their teammate.
“It was a nice win for me, but I do it for the team,” Andrist said while celebrating the championship. “We all train, we all fight and we all win together. I know everyone in the state trains together and they train hard, but what separates us is that we’re like a brotherhood. We’re really unique in a special kind of way and that’s something you don’t get all the time.”
“That’s what’s pretty awesome about this team,” Heidt added. “It’s not just the Brady Berges, Noah Ryans and Keaten Schorrs, it’s everybody. When we give a guy like that the nod, he just goes out and wrestles.”
In the end, it wasn’t just the fact that the KoMets were a team that made this state championship impressive…it was the way they accomplished that feat. Throughout the course of the season, K-M dominated everything they were a part of. In duals, that meant a perfect 25-0 record where the most points that the KoMets allowed were Simley’s 20 during the Swalla Duals on January 28.
Defending champion Kasson-Mantorville coasted in the Class AA state finals Thursday, dismantling Worthington in the quarterfinals and Foley in the semifinals.
The KoMets left no doubt in the finals, either. They rolled to a second consecutive state title, blasting Simley 45-18 in the finals.
K-M has won three Class AA titles in the last five seasons. But this K-M team was by far the most dominant. The KoMets never were truly tested in 2016-17.
"We have kids who fight, at every single weight," K-M senior Brady Berge said. "I think that's the difference. We pick each other up and we fight, and that's every single person in our room."