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MADISON – The bright lights and big stage of a state wrestling tournament didn’t seem to faze Boyceville freshman Josiah Berg.
The first-time state participant showed the skills and performances that made him stand out all season.
Berg capitalized on the opportunity, finishing 2-2 and placing fifth in the 2019 Division 3, 106-pound weight class at the 76th annual WIAA Individual State Wrestling Championships held last Thursday, February 21 through Saturday, February 23 at the Kohl Center in Madison.
On his journey to the state medals podium last Saturday evening, Berg gained valuable experience as well as regional and sectional gold medals and a ton of respect.
After opening with a quarterfinal victory Friday morning, Berg lost two straight to ranked opponents but rebounded in his final match Saturday afternoon to place fifth.
“Josiah came back with a nice win to end the season,” said his head coach Jamie Olson following his final match.
“For a freshman, fifth place, it’s great accomplishment, I am really proud of the kid,” continued Olson. “He is a hard worker and great kid to coach.”
And he has accomplished so much in just a short period of time. He didn’t take to the wrestling mats until sixth grade.
“He hasn’t been wrestling long and he is just going to keep getting better and better,” added Olson. “He is passionate about the sport and works really hard. He is going to be back here.”
As a sectional champion, Berg, who entered the tournament ranked fourth in the pre-state poll, did not have to wrestle until Friday morning’s quarterfinals’ round, where, in his first state match, he scored a 7-2 win over Wittenberg-Birnamwood freshman and tenth-ranked Pierson Potrykus (40-11).
Much of the first period elapsed without a score but with 17 seconds remaining, Berg secured the takedown and a 2-0 lead.
The only scoring of the middle period was an escape by Potrykus who had begun the stanza in the down position.
With the choice of positions for the third period, Berg opted to start on the mat. Just 13 second into the final frame, the Bulldogs’ lightweight worked a reversal for a 4-1 advantage and soon added a three-point near fall to grow his lead to 7-1. Potrykus escaped with seconds left on the clock for the 7-2 final.
“Josiah wrestled a nice match,” said Olson of his freshman’s state-opening triumph. “He wrestle a solid match against a Wittenberg-Birnamwood kid we had seen earlier in the year but didn’t wrestle him but we had a good idea, a good game plan going in there. He wrestled a really good match to get him in the top six placing which was big.”
With the win, Berg advanced to Friday night’s main event – the state semifinal round.
Going in, Olson and his wrestler knew they had their hands full facing the top-ranked wrestler in the weight class – Remington Bontreger, a Lancaster freshman with an impressive 45-1. With a name fitting a Wild West shootist or a firearms manufacturer, Bontreger targeted Berg early but the Boyceville wrestler showed his savvy and guile, fighting off takedown attempts throughout a scoreless first period.
Unfortunately, Bontreger’s attacks finally broke through Berg’s defenses in the second, two-minute frame. The Lancaster grappler piled up the points in the period, scoring an escape, a takedown and a pair of near falls – a two and three-pointer – to shoot out to an 8-0 lead.
Bontreger added a takedown in the last period to score the shut out on a 10-0 major decision.
“Our draw in the semis was not a great draw but when you get in the semis everyone is tough. This kid happened to be the number one ranked kid and Josiah had chances early to score a couple of times and the kid did a great job countering and we weren’t able to get those two takedowns,” stated Olson.
“I think if we would have gotten a takedown in that first period, it might have changed that match a little bit but the kid was tough. Everything we did, he countered. It was just one of those matches that Josiah wrestled tough, that kid wrestled just a little bit better and he caught us in a scramble and got some near-fall points and kind of opened it up there. It’s tough to come back when you go down five but Josiah wrestled hard.”
Bontreger went on to finish second to Cameron freshman Tanner Berber, who Berg had beaten 6-4 in the previous week’s sectional semifinal. Gerber (49-2) is following in the footsteps of his older brother Kal – a two-time state champ.
“He was really down about the loss (to Bontreger), it was a hard one and it is!” Olson said. “You’re that close to being in the state finals, it’s right there on your fingertips being in the finals and when you get beat it’s emotional and you have to overcome that and it is hard.”
The effects of the loss lingered into Berg’s first placement-round match the following morning.
Another highly-rated freshman, Troy Dolphin (50-3) of Kenosha Christian Life needed just 58 seconds to score the pinfall on Berg in Saturday morning’s consolation finals. Dolphin, who was beaten by Gerber in the quarterfinals, finished the day with his third pin of the tournament and the bronze medal.
“We had some weight to lose today and that is hard to do when your down,” noted Olson. “Today he (Berg) came in and was a little bit off mentally that first match and the kid though was tough and ended up pinning Thaemert (of St. Croix Falls) too. We were a little down about that match but looking back Dolphin was really good. Wish we would have went a full match with him to see were we would have ended up but getting caught in that cradle was tough.”
But Berg rebounded in his final match, snagging fifth place with a 4-1 win over Coleman freshman Chance Gruber (39-14).
Berg trailed 1-0 in the second period but took the lead for good with a takedown midway through the fame and then closed out the match and scoring with a reversal 24 second into the final period.
Berg capped his freshman season with a state medal and a 44-7 record.