Buringa is chasing perfection
Before the 2015-16 high school wrestling season, St. Charles coach Mike Mathison asked his wrestlers to write down a goal.
Freshman Mark Buringa needed only a few moments to scribble his lofty expectations.
"I think it took Mark less than a second to write down his," Mathison said. "It was clear what his goal was from the time of his final match at state last year. He's put in the hard work, and I know he doesn't want to settle for anything less than a state title."
Buringa almost realized that goal last season. He advanced to the Class A state semifinals at 106 pounds. A semifinals loss bounced him into the consolation bracket, but he came back to finish fifth as an eighth-grader.
The loss and overall state experience lit a fire under Buringa. There was no offseason for him; he worked tirelessly to improve all phases of his game. When he returned to the wrestling room this winter, Mathison said the improvement was evident.
"Some things come natural to him, but he also works very hard," Mathison said. "He's got all-around great technique. He spends so much time drilling and doing situational wrestling, so you never see him very far out of position."
Buringa's improvement has helped him to a perfect 35-0 record entering this weekend's Section One, Class A individual tournament at Mayo Civic Center. Buringa is the No. 1 seed at 113 pounds.
While Buringa is a heavy favorite to roll to his first section title, he's not taking anything for granted. "This time of year, you can't look past anyone; you have to take it one match at a time," he said.
Buringa's success likely isn't a major surprise to anyone familiar with wrestling in southeastern Minnesota. That's because his father, Mike Buringa, was a standout coach and wrestler from Plainview. He was a state champion as a sophomore and ended his career as a three-time state place-winner. Mike Buringa is still No. 4 on the all-time wins list at Plainview (now Plainview-Elgin-Millville).
The Buringa last name led to expectations for Mark, but he's taken them all in stride.
"Maybe at first it bothered me, but I don't even think about it now," Mark said. "My dad told me early on, I don't ever need to compare myself to him. I just need to handle my own business and be the best that I can be."
Mark also has adjusted beautifully to a leadership role in the St. Charles wrestling room. Though he's just freshman, he's counted on to be a team leader and role model.
"It can be intimidating with seniors and juniors in the room, but for a kid who's just a ninth-grader, that's a lot on his shoulders and yet he's handled it so well," Mathison said. "He's an outstanding kid."
Mathison would know. He's had a mat-side seat for Mark Buringa's career for as long as he can remember. That's because Mathison's son, Tyler, is also a freshman wrestler.
"They both started out wrestling together in preschool, so I've been fortunate to watch him all along the way," Mathison said. "I really think the minute that kid was born he probably had a goal of being a state champion."
If Mark Buringa's state-title dreams are to come true this season, he'll likely need to go through Kenyon-Wanamingo's Ethan Cota. Though they haven't wrestled this season, Buringa knows Cota well. He lost to him in the Section 1A finals last season. Buringa hoped to get another shot at Cota at state, but he fell short in the semifinals. Cota went on to win the state title.
Cota, who's ranked No. 1 at 113, and the Knights are now in Section 2A. Buringa, who's ranked No. 2 at 113, would love to meet Cota in the state finals.
"We have to get there, but it would be a pleasure to compete against a good athlete like him," Buringa said. "He's a nice kid on and off the mat. It'll be a fun match if it happens."