Area Male Athlete: S-M's Bjerga focused on mental toughness
Owen Bjerga isn't No. 1 so he's not celebrating anything just yet. The Staples-Motley Cardinals junior has plenty to celebrate, however, as he's collected wins at the Big Bear Tournament and Buffalo Invite and a second-place finish at the Paul Bu...
Owen Bjerga isn't No. 1 so he's not celebrating anything just yet.
The Staples-Motley Cardinals junior has plenty to celebrate, however, as he's collected wins at the Big Bear Tournament and Buffalo Invite and a second-place finish at the Paul Bunyan in Brainerd.
In fact, the loss in the championship match at the Paul Bunyan is Bjerga's only blemish in an otherwise perfect season.
"That's a big motivator," Bjerga said. "I still have that second-place medal on my bed stand so I look at it every day. It keeps me going. That was a big one."
And Class 1A's No. 2-ranked 160-pounder went back to work to fix the mistakes preventing him from winning the match. "I had three leg attacks that I had up and I didn't finish a single takedown in that match," Bjerga said. "That was the key factor on that. I went back and worked on finishing takedowns. I over-thought way too much on that match. It's a good fuel to the fire."
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- Year: Junior
- School: Staples-Motley
- Sport: Wrestling
- Position: 160 pounds
- Highlights: Won the 160-pound weight class at Buffalo Tournament
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The loss pushed Bjerga to the 160-pound title at the Big Bear Tournament Dec. 14-15 in Blackduck. He scored back-to-back pins to push into the quarterfinals, where he scored a tech fall. He then decisioned Jon Smith of Mora 10-5 before pinning Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton's Carter Schmidt in 2:48 for the title.
"I found out I got the second seed, so you could say I was the underdog, and so that fueled me a little bit," Bjerga said. "I never got to see the No. 1 seed, but that fueled me to win it."
Bjerga went 3-0 and captured the 160-pound weight class at the Buffalo Tournament, Saturday, Jan. 5.
He opened with a 3:02 fall of Centennial's Cameron Bettinger and then scored a 10-4 decision of Grant Louwagie of Marshall in the semifinals. Bjerga finished off the weekend with a 10-0 major decision over Willmar's Ethan Roux for the title.
"He's constantly attacking," Carlson said. "He likes to wear his opponents out. He's constantly, I call it heavy hands, where he's snapping guys down and looking for his takedowns. He's got a motor so he's constantly going. In wrestling, we call it breaking kids so by the second and third period, it might be a closer match in the first period, but by the second and third period he still has a lot in the tank so he'll start pulling away from kids."
He opened the week by going 3-0 at the Paynesville Quadrangular Jan. 4.
He scored a 6-4 decision over Royalton/Upsala's Jackson Held, who is ranked No. 3 in Class 1A.
"It was a decision," Bjerga said. "I realized I had some stuff to work on so it's good to wrestle those top guys because it brings out your weaknesses, which is good."
He scored a 9-1 win over Long Prairie-Grey Eagle's Gabe Pesta and collected a forfeit against Paynesville helping build his season record to 21-1.
At the United North Central duals Dec. 18, Bjerga beat the 10th-ranked Ben Olson of Roseau.
"He's dedicated himself in the weight room so he's more physical," Carlson said. "He's a high motor guy so he's really wearing out opponents. But his technique has really improved all around. He's turning into a well-rounded wrestler with the technique improvements and the physicality of the weight training."
Bjerga is a three-time state tournament participant. He finished sixth last year and has big goals for this year's final event.
"Right away, the first year there, stepping out in front of 20,000 people it's crazy," Bjerga said. "Getting to know that it's just another tournament is very beneficial."
"It's all mental. Staying strong throughout the year because it's a long season and you wear out at the end of the year, but if you're able to keep a good mental view with the sport, those are the kids who I think do well at state."
Other notable performances
Basketball: Jonah Prokott, Pierz, finished with 32 points against Paynesville.
Hockey: Max Phillips, Wadena-Deer Creek, finished with four goal and two assists against Park Rapids.
Wrestling: John Paul Fitzpatrick and Nate Williams, Crosby-Ironton, each finished 4-0 and won their respective weight classes at the Ogilvie Tournament.
Mason Snyder, Wadena-Deer Creek, finished 4-0 at the Mahnomen Dual Tournament.
Trevor Radunz, Jake Andres, Reese Kapsner, and Carson Huls, Pierz, all finished 4-0 last week.