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Kasson-Mantorville’s Brady Berge celebrates his 160-pound Class AA individual championship at the state wrestling tournament in March at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Berge is the Post Bulletin’s 2017 Athlete of the Year.

Jamie Heidt doesn’t enjoy picking a “best” all-time wrestler at Kasson-Mantorville High School.

“That’s like picking your best child,” said the K-M coach, who’s directed the KoMets to three state team titles and had oodles of state individual champs. “You don’t want to do it.”

But with enough coaxing, Heidt relents.

His choice — 2017 K-M graduate Brady Berge, he of the four state individual titles (almost certainly would have been five had he not broken his leg in the state individual semifinals in 2016), the No. 1 national ranking as a senior at 160 pounds, the 282-5 won-lost record, and as much desire to win and learn as anyone he’s been around.

“Obviously, Brady is a kid who comes around once in a lifetime for a coach,” said Heidt, who now cheers for Berge from a distance, as he is a redshirt freshman at No. 1-ranked Penn State. “He’s an absolutely fantastic young man, a great kid to coach, and you couldn’t ask for a better athlete.”

At the Post Bulletin, he is also our choice. Though Caledonia football and basketball mega-star Owen King would have also richly fit the bill, we’ve got Berge as the 2017 Post Bulletin Sportsperson of the Year.

Heidt can’t imagine a better choice, just as he can’t imagine a better athlete leading his program. Ask him Berge’s best attribute — and there are plenty to sort through, including all of that athleticism, intelligence, humility and drive — and Heidt comes up with it quickly.

It’s the Kasson-Mantorville graduate’s will to improve and win. And it wasn’t just a drive to make himself better, but the team. Berge could often be found after practices, coaching up the younger wrestlers.

He did whatever he could to make himself and the program better.

“That is the one thing that stands out most with Brady, and you see that over and over again in the greatest wrestlers,” Heidt said. “It’s not just a love to compete, but a hate for losing. He found any way he could to win.”

STUDENT OF THE GAME

Berge did that by watching and listening, then going to work on his craft.

“With Brady, it was always how to get better — what do I need to do to get better,” Heidt said. “You need to be coachable. And of all the guys I’ve coached, Brady is at the top of that (coachable) list. There was never a time in practice when his eyes weren’t wide open.”

Berge earned his first state championship as a seventh-grader, winning at 106 pounds. After that, he never wanted to settle for anything less. To do that, he knew he had to keep climbing in all wrestling ways.

“Once you get that first real taste of success, that’s something that you don’t want to let go of,” Berge said.

No doubt, Berge did improve every year, including in 2017 when finished as our PB Sportsperson of the Year.

And he did that in a season that actually began with doubt cast over him. Coming off a year in which he’d broken his leg in the state semifinals and then had surgery that required screws and a metal plate, even Heidt admits that he wasn’t sure what to expect from his senior star.

“It was something special seeing him come back after that broken leg,” Heidt said. “People were wondering what he would be like trying to come back from that. Even I wasn’t sure.”

It didn’t take long to stop the wondering. Just two weeks before the start of the 2017 calendar year, Berge notched his toughest and most impressive win of a season that saw him go unbeaten. He got it over St. Michael-Albertville’s Jake Allar in the power-packed Minnesota Christmas Tournament in Rochester. Berge trailed 3-2 with 18 seconds to go against Allar, who was ranked No. 2 in the country at the time.

Berge came through in the nick of time, delivered a takedown as the clock sifted to nothing. It was good for the win, keeping his record perfect and helping K-M to its first Christmas Tournament championship.

Berge and Allar met up one more time nearly a month later. That came in the prestigious Cheesehead Invitational in Kaukauna, Wis. Berge had taken mental notes from their previous too-close-for-comfort encounter — as he always does — then proceeded to put his new plan to work.

Berge wouldn’t need any last-ditch move this time. He secured takedowns in the second and third periods for an impressive 5-3 win, solidifying his hold on that No. 1 national ranking.

“Those were my two toughest matches of the season, and I learn from every match,” Berge said. “I felt like from the first time to the second time that I met him, that I got better — I made a jump. It’s fun to test yourself in matches like that. (Allar) is a great competitor, and you only get tests like that once or twice a year. It helped build confidence in myself.”

By the time the state tournament rolled around two months later, Berge was untouchable.

TEAM GUY

He’d dipped to 152 pounds for the sake of making his KoMets stronger and deeper in the team tournament, then won by pin and two technical falls en route to K-M claiming its second straight Class AA championship.

That might have been the high point of his season.

“That was great, just because our (senior) class was so tight,” said Berge, whose KoMets blasted Simley 45-18 in the finals. “We’d been training hard ever since middle school, with so many of us so committed to the sport. We took the team aspect of it very seriously. We had a very dominating team.”

In the individual state tournament, where he competed at 160, Berge wrestled four times, winning three matches by technical fall and one by pin. That included a 25-10 rout of Fairmont/Martin-County West’s Collin Steuber in the finals.

Berge has always been known for his wrestling intensity. But when he took to the mat in the championship dual of the team competition, his focus was like never before.

Heidt couldn’t miss it.

“Usually I say something to him just before he takes the mat,” Heidt said. “But I looked back, and he was already on the mat before I could say anything. This was a moment he’d been waiting for. I think this meant even more to him than the individual final. He’s a wrestler who always put the team first. You appreciate kids like that.”

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Sports Reporter

Pat covers tennis, girls basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and baseball. He also writes about Gophers football and basketball, and the Timberwolves. He’s been reporting for the Post Bulletin since 1994.