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Saturday Sports Q&A: After silver medal, Bennett Berge ready for next wrestling chapter

Bennett Berge, a Mantorville native, recently won silver at the U-20 World Championships in Bulgaria and is now starting classes as a South Dakota State University freshman.

Bennett Berge Team USA
Bennett Berge (far left) poses with teammates, while sporting his silver medal at the 2022 U-20 World Championships.
James Green / USA Wrestling
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Bennett Berge has enjoyed every second of what has been a hectic past six months.

The Mantorville native got a jump start on his post-high school career, graduating from Kasson-Mantorville in March, shortly after capturing his fifth individual state wrestling championship.

It was a tournament to remember for the former Kasson-Mantorville standout, who was still in high school just five months ago. Now, he is an international name across the sport.

He trained hard with his brother — former Penn State University wrestler and South Dakota State University assistant wrestling coach Brady Berge — in hopes of making the U-20 USA wrestling team.

That mission was accomplished when the underdog Berge won the 86-kg title at the United World Wrestling World Team Trials in early June to earn a spot on the 10-member Team USA for the world championships Aug. 15 in Bulgaria.

On the international stage, Berge delivered with a run all the way to the championship match, where he fell in a hard fought match by a 10-5 decision to Rakhim Magamadov of France. Berge also helped Team USA finish second as a team behind Iran.

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He's now back in South Dakota, starting his college courses at South Dakota State. Preseason camp is underway, but Berge is sidelined for a few weeks and will redshirt this season to recover from an injury he has been dealing with for the past year.

Post Bulletin: You pretty much graduated from Kasson-Mantorville (High School) and moved to SDSU as soon as you won your fifth high school state title. How was that experience and what's it like living with your brother Brady again?

Berge: It kind of gave me a jump start on the rest of the kids in college, I feel like, and it was fun. I mean, I got to do some things with my brother that I hadn't done for a long time since he hasn't been around and so it was a really good experience for me.

PB: What did your day-to-day look like during that time?

Berge: My nutrition was a big part. Being out here, I didn't go to school, so it was literally food, wrestling and then find something to do at night. So I'd wake up, make a good breakfast, work out, come back and get some more food and go to practice again that afternoon. And my brother and I would go do something at night, normally golf.

PB: Who's the better golfer? You or Brady?

Berge: Definitely me. He definitely knows that.

PB: A lot of that training was dedicated to trying out for the U-20 USA Wrestling team. You clinched your spot on the 10-member team by winning the 86-kg title at the United World Wrestling World Team Trials in June. What were your expectations heading into that?

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Berge: I had a tournament before the trials, the U.S. Open. And I didn't place at that. I didn't probably wrestle as well as I could have. I went into the trials as an eight seed. I just showed up to the trials, wanting to compete as hard as I could. And I started kind of rolling that day and I was doing pretty good. Obviously, I ended up winning the trials and made the team.

PB: What was running through your head knowing you were going to represent the United States?

Berge: I usually don't show too much emotion. But I would say I showed a little bit in that last match of the trials. It's just it's something that I think, especially in the sport of wrestling, everyone wants to compete for team USA, make world teams at the college level. So it's definitely an accomplishment and was a goal of mine, but it's also not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to be a national champion. That's still a year, year and a half down the road."

PB: How and where did you train for Team USA?

Berge: We went out to the OTC (Olympic Training Center in Boulder, Colo.) and I had a good seven weeks of hard training and then backed off and started to feel good for the world championships. It was probably the best training period I've ever had. And I think I made some some pretty good jumps in my wrestling.

PB: So the world championships were in Sofia, Bulgaria. How long of a flight was it?

Berge: Twenty-four hours there, 30 on the way back. We had three connecting flights. And I've never been overseas, so I really didn't know what to expect from the sleeping standpoint. My sleep schedule was just so messed up.

PB: What's that part of the world like?

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Berge: Sofia is an old town. But we only really went on short walks, not really any touristy walks. We kind of stuck to our hotels and it was mainly business. I think we could have gone out of town for 30-40 minutes and it would have been pretty cool. But we were there to wrestle.

PB: You faced off against guys from France, Turkey, Hungary, what's it like facing those international guys?

Berge: They all have a little different feel, right? It's still wrestling, so it's not something completely different, but they also wrestle freestyle all year round. They know a few more tricks than the U.S. does. Those first couple matches were good for me. To understand the feel before I got into some of the best guys in the world. But they love to squeeze, love to get in there and squeeze. But they wear out pretty quick.

PB: Would you want to continue wrestling for Team USA?

Berge: I'll do the same deal next year. I'll go to trials and I'll have to win trials to make the team. One more year of U-20 eligibility. I'm excited for that. There's U-23. Those are senior level guys. Once you get past U-20, even U-20, in some countries, some of the U-20 guys are their best guys. Like that kid from France. He's the senior level rep for France. So he's no slouch.

PB: How are you liking SDSU so far?

Berge: I like it a lot out here. We have a good group of freshmen in the class of '22 for the Jackrabbits and I get along with them all really well. It's a nice place out here. ... I'll be off the mat for probably three more weeks. I'll get back into things slow and hopefully be ready to go for some of the opens at the beginning of the year.

Related Topics: WRESTLINGKASSON-MANTORVILLE
Alex VandenHouten has been a sports reporter at the Post Bulletin since Sept. 2021. He loves to go hiking, biking, snowshoeing and just simply being outdoors with his wife Olivia. Readers can reach Alex at avandenhouten@postbulletin.com.
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