Bennett Berge might be better than he was last year.

Now, listen. What you're hearing is a collective terrified gasp from the rest of the state.

The Kasson-Mantorville junior grappler has already won three state titles, but he’s not even close to finished yet.

About the only good thing COVID-19 accomplished was that it brought Big Ten Conference wrestler Brady Berge home from Penn State. The former Kasson-Mantorville state champion was then stuck at the family residence for a couple of months. The Berges have a large wrestling mat at their house. While wrestlers throughout the rest of the state were locked at home, mosty idle, the Berge boys were homebound, too. Only they were getting after it.

Four or five times per week, Bennett would spar with Brady. And Broc Berge –– an assistant wrestling coach at K-M –– would also stop by and give Bennett a run for his money.

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"To be honest, COVID-19 helped me,” Bennett said. “You can’t ask for any better partner than Brady. Most kids had a disadvantage because they didn’t have anywhere to wrestle, but I was able to wrestle a Big Ten wrestler a bunch. He’s still in wrestling shape and he’s still a monster. He definitely got the best of me. Then I’d also wrestle Broc a lot, too. My family is helping me so much.”

Wrestling means a lot to the Berge family. It’s been a huge part of their lives for multiple decades. Brady and Broc both do their part to help Bennett succeed as much as possible. Even when Brady is at Penn State, he’ll make sure to text Bennett different little tips and techniques that he could add to his repertoire. And then Broc is at practice every single day and isn’t afraid to step in and be Bennett’s training partner.

“Wrestling is super important to us,” Bennett said. “It’s just what we do, but it’s not the end-all or be-all. I just love to go out and compete. My older brothers aren’t too hard on me. They’re just trying to help me. They mean a lot to me.”

NEW ROLE

Bennett is having to take on a new role in the Kasson-Mantorville wrestling room. For the last few years, Patrick Kennedy has been the alpha dog in the room. Kennedy was one of the hardest-working people around. He’s fiery, passionate and disciplined. Kennedy despises laziness and losing and wasn't afraid to step up as a vocal leader and get things on track. Berge and Kennedy trained together every single day. More often than not, they were each other’s best competition. They’d make each other better in practice and then go destroy their competition on the mat.

Four state titles later, Kennedy is off to Iowa and wrestling for the No. 1 Hawkeyes. That leaves a pretty large hole in the KoMets’ wrestling room.

“Patrick is a tough kid to lose as a partner,” Berge said. “He’s one of the best partners in the country. Thankfully, I have Kail Wynia, Jackson Kennedy, Cole Glazier, or my brother, Broc, that I can go with.”

Berge is quick to point out that his leadership style is much more about actions than words. But they can both have the same outcome.

"I’m trying to help the guys I’m wrestling with as much as Patrick helped me,” Berge said. “We have a ton of potential; we just have guys that have to step up and take on some bigger roles. I think they’ll do that. We can have a really really good team still."

Kasson-Mantorville head coach Jamie Heidt high-fives Bennett Berge after winning the 170-pound Class AA championship match against Simley's Gavin Nelson on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)
Kasson-Mantorville head coach Jamie Heidt high-fives Bennett Berge after winning the 170-pound Class AA championship match against Simley's Gavin Nelson on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)

Wrestling coaches across the country are hoping to get a piece of Berge. He’s currently focused on Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State, South Dakota State and Wyoming, but he’s going to wait until he can visit those programs to officially decide. Good thing he has plenty of time. For now, he’s just hoping to lead the KoMets back to the top. Simley will likely be waiting for them.

Even though Patrick Kennedy is gone, that doesn’t mean K-M will take a step back. Because Jamie Heidt is one of the elite coaches in the country and could probably be leading a college wrestling program right now. He always has K-M peaking at the right time.

Oh, and one other reason. Thanks to the help of his older brothers, Bennett is even better, and the three-time defending state champion isn't planning on slowing down anytime soon.