Few states love wrestling quite like Minnesota, and the talent in southeastern Minnesota is through the roof. Thirty-four wrestlers advanced to the state quarterfinals this season alone.
Selecting the Post Bulletin’s 2021 Wrestler of the Year out of that group was a simple task.
It’s Kasson-Mantorville’s Bennett Berge, who finished the 2021 season a perfect 29-0 and won his fourth state championship.
What’s it like to wrestle against a four-time state champion? We went and found out from someone who knows quite a bit about stepping onto the mat to face Berge.
Last season, Becker’s Caden DeWall faced Berge in the Class AA 170-pound semifinals. It was a back-and-forth match and Berge came out on top, winning 7-6. This season, they met again in the Class AA 182-pound state championship match. DeWall was confident in himself and his work ethic. He’d put in the time throughout the offseason. It wasn’t a fluke that he was in the state championship match. He certainly respected everything about Berge, but he wasn’t scared of the Kasson-Mantorville junior.
"Honestly, I just went out there and wrestled like I normally would,” DeWall said. “I didn’t have a specific game plan just for him, but I knew that he was a terrific wrestler. We obviously wrestled at the state tournament last year, so I knew that he was a stud. There’s no such thing as a bad four-time state champion.”
DeWall had been a buzzsaw all year long. Leading up to the state quarterfinals, no one had been able to stick with him through regulation. But Berge? He’s a different animal. Berge controlled the state title match on March 26 at St. Michael-Albertville High School. DeWall battled hard and hung tough, but Berge put the finishing touches on his fourth state title with a 7-3 victory.
“He’s the most technical wrestler I’ve ever wrestled,” DeWall said. "You think you’re in a good position and you take a really nice shot, but his movement with his hands and his heavy hands is so tough. When he gets you with that front head, he’s going to score and you can’t really do anything about it. That’s his best scoring position. He can score from other positions but he’s just so, so good at that front head spot. His technicality on the mat is impressive.”
That’s high praise for Berge from a high-end opponent. But take a look at the type of wresters who Berge has gone up against throughout his wrestling career, and the praise makes a ton of sense.
At home, Berge got great experience from tangling with his older brothers, Broc and Brady. Broc is on the Kasson-Mantorville coaching staff, and Brady was a three-time individual state champion at K-M who went on to have a terrific career at Penn State before injuries cut it short.
Wrestling is in Berge’s blood. He’s almost destined to be the one of the best at it.
When Berge got out of the house and went to the Kasson-Mantorville wrestling room, he was competing daily against four-time state champion Patrick Kennedy under the watchful eye of legendary K-M head coach Jamie Heidt.
“I had the best practice partner in the country,” Berge said.
Berge and Kennedy formed one of the best duos in K-M history. They were back-to-back in the Kasson-Mantorville lineup, and the KoMets could almost pencil in two pins every single night.
Berge lives, breathes and sleeps wrestling. DeWall knew it before the state championship match, but wrestling Berge in state for each of the last two years only reinforced it.
“You’re going to make mistakes and he just capitalizes on those every single time,” DeWall said. “You can’t get away with anything. And then he’s really hard to score on. We had a good match last year and this year, I got in on a really deep shot on him in the second period but he was able to get out of it and got into a scramble position and I wasn’t able to score. He didn’t try to ride me. He knew that it was going to be tough for me to take him down especially because he got a lead.”
DeWall is good enough to be a state champion. He just happened to wrestle in the same weight class as Berge. DeWall finished his standout career with a third-place finish in Class AA in 2020 and a second-place finish in Class AA in 2021. Both times, Berge ended his state championship push.
Berge has already accumulated 189 career victories. He’s getting recruited by some of the top wrestling programs in the country. He’ll undoubtedly be the favorite for another state title next year, and he’ll likely finish his standout Kasson-Mantorville career with well more than 200 career victories.
He’ll also go down as the best wrestler DeWall has ever faced.
"This year, I didn’t really wrestle a ton of great competition,” DeWall said. “I had some good matches at the state tournament, but up until then, I hadn't had a six-minute match all year. This year, Bennett was far and away the best wrestler I’ve ever wrestled. I wrestled out in Wisconsin and wrestled Simley’s Quayin Short and some guys from Massachusetts who were really good, but Bennett’s technique was better than theirs.
"Berge is a beast.”