Male Area Athlete of Week: Bjerga looks to avenge heartbreak from last year
Heartbreaking losses can fuel a player or team to have a successful season the next year.
For Staples-Motley senior wrestler Owen Bjerga that is exactly what he is trying to do this season.
In the state finals his junior season, Bjerga was seconds away from winning the state championship when he was taken down by his opponent in the final seconds of the match and suffered a one-point loss.
“It’s probably the worst way you can lose,” Bjerga said when reliving the moment.
The loss has been in the back of Bjerga’s mind the whole 2019-2020 season. It is what motivates him.
“I’m trying to do whatever I can do to not have that feeling again,” Bjerga said. “If I won it last year who knows where I would be right now. I probably would not have put in as much work in the summer as I did.”
Bjerga has turned in a 28-1 record this season and is ranked No. 1 in the state at 160 pounds with the only loss being when he went up a weight class.
“He hasn’t had anybody in his weight class push him too hard,” S-M head coach Mark Carlson said. “He’s focused on having a complete end of the season, being strong physically and mentally. He has really wrestled some high-caliber wrestlers and has dismantled some of them. He’s on a whole other level.”
Last week in the Mid-State Conference wrestling tournament, Bjerga finished first by winning all five of his matches at 160-pounds. He also netted his 100th career pin and 175th career win in the process.
“I have not been focused on the wins or the pins this year,” Bjerga said. “The goal this year is to win state and all those other awards are just extra.”
He was also named the Mid-State’s most valuable wrestler to go along with his all-conference honors.
Carlson predicts by the end of the season Bjerga will be the most decorated Cardinals wrestler in school history. If he can add a state championship to that list it will be all worth it for him.
“That feels good after all the years of hard work that it’s finally paying off,” Bjerga said of potentially becoming the Cardinals all-time leading pins and wins leader. “It probably won’t last very long, so I will enjoy it while it lasts.”
On the mat, Bjerga’s go-to moves are usually his fakes and his ability to move his feet. He really relies on wearing his opponent out, so he can break them to get the win.
“It’s a pretty good feeling when you can feel a guy break mentally,” Bjerga said. “You know you can just dominate after that.”
Carlson said Bjerga usually gets the first takedown, which helps him win more times than not. Last season, Bjerga recorded 160 takedowns and only gave up three, which set the tone in his matches.
“I always say, your takedown percentage usually correlates to your winning percentage,” Carlson said. “So you get a takedown in Owen’s case 98 to 99% of the time you are going to win 99% of the time.”
Carlson said when Bjerga wrestles, he can sit back and enjoy and not do too much coaching.
“We do some adjusting here and there, but he is a great kid to coach and it has been a great experience coaching him in general,” Carlson said.
This season Bjerga has also focused on being more of a leader to the younger wrestlers in the Cardinals’ program. He leads by example and works hard at practice even when some days he might not want to practice.
“I could not have asked for a better captain,” Carlson said. “He has been a two-year captain and he is a fantastic role model for the kids and very driven and also humble about his accomplishments as well.”
Bjerga has also challenged himself this season by bumping a weight class a few times to wrestle.
“That keeps my head level and shows me what I need to work on,” Bjerga said of wrestling above his weight class. “Staying healthy is the biggest thing for me.”
State title or not, Bjerga hopes he continued the Staples-Motley wrestling tradition and made his coaches and teammates proud.
“Everyone kind of knows what Staples-Motley is about,” Bjerga said. “Just trying to keep that legacy going a little bit and hopefully I am doing a good job.”
Position: 170 pounds
Highlights: Recorded his 100th career pin in the Mid-State Tournament where he earned all-conference honors