State wrestling: Simley changed state champion Cael Berg for the better

Excitement. Exhilaration. Relief.

That’s how Simley senior Cael Berg would describe the feelings immediately after winning his second straight state title, this time besting Dassel-Cokato Litchfield’s Jude Link 4-2 to win the 160-pound title.

“Sometimes, before a match, I’ve got to remind myself that you don’t do what you do in the Simley wrestling room to take second,” he said. “Winning makes it all worth it.”

Berg couldn’t quite describe the daily practice workload. He said it’s something you have to experience for yourself. It changes a guy.

Such was the case for Berg. Five years ago, he walked into the Spartans’ wrestling room as a “super basic” wrestler, who wouldn’t even say he’s one of the best students.

Five years later, he’s going to wrestle for Harvard.

“Cael is, what I would call, the perfect student-athlete,” Simley coach Will Short said. “A guy who works hard in the classroom, works hard in the wrestling room, is a student of wrestling, a student on and off the mat. He represents what you want kids to be.”

Berg said Simley molded him into that kid.

“They’ve put a lot of work into me, but I think, most of all, they just changed my actions on and off the mat,” Berg said. “It gave me a work ethic that made school easy. … When I went to Simley, I just kind of cracked down on school, and school became easier after a really hard morning lift and an afternoon practice. It was like, this is the part of the day you look forward to some days, so that changed me a lot.”

Berg has a couple different potential paths at Harvard. He’s interested in computer science and engineering, but his dad works in the medical field, and he might want to go that route, too. Which, along with wrestling, will mean he has a lot on his plate. His time at Simley has prepared him for that.

“When I walked out of the wrestling room for the last time (Thursday), five years had gone too fast, which is crazy to say, because there were days it was so hard you’re like, ‘Man, this really sucks,’” Berg said. “But when you finally walk out that door, you know you’re going to miss that one day, no matter how bad it sucked in the moment, it’s something you’re going to look back on and remember fondly.”

SOKOL OVERCOMES 

Moments after winning his third state title via a technical fall victory over Dassel-Cokato Litchfeld’s Eddie Simes to win the 152-pound crown, Simley senior Ryan Sokol went over and hugged Spartans coach Will Short.

That’s a common celebration at state, but this was an elongated embrace.

“I was kind of overwhelmed, just realizing that’s the last time I’m ever going to put on a Spartans singlet,” Sokol said. “Coach Short is like a second father to me. He’s mentored me ever since I was 4-years-old, starting the program, just such a great man to be around. A lot of emotions being the end of our ride.”

What a ride it’s been.

Short, Sokol noted, is the one who’s known when to push him hard, but also when he needed to be picked up after a tough loss. Short had to make sure Sokol truly wanted to continue forward.

Sokol had surgery in the offseason to repair three tears in his meniscus. It was a six-month recovery. Then, about a month ago in practice, his knee gave out again. He doesn’t know the official diagnosis yet, all he knew is he wasn’t going to be deterred.

“A lot of it … is just mentality. I don’t want to make excuses and I don’t want to have that be a reason I didn’t get my third title,” Sokol said. “Right now, I’m just glad to have another title.”

Now Sokol is off to Cornell, where he wants to win a national title, and also pursue his love of music. He picked that up as a hobby about a year ago — something to keep his mind off wrestling from time to time. His genre is a mix of R&B  and hip-hop. At Cornell, Sokol is going to study music production and engineering, as well as economics. Sokol currently has the Cornell “C” tattooed on his arm. He got that before he was even admitted into the school.

“I had a feeling I was going to get accepted, but it was a risk,” he said. “Because if I didn’t get accepted, then that’d be really awkward.”

QUAYIN GETS HIS TITLE

Will Short always makes a point to make sports to be more important than they should be in life.

But he knew how much winning an individual state title Friday night meant to his nephew, Quayin. Wrestling state titles feel like a birthright for Shorts.

Will’s son, Jake, won four individual titles. Another nephew, Mack, won one as a senior. Quayin, a Wyoming commit, had come so close in the past — finishing second twice and fourth once. Finally, on Friday, he climbed to the top rung, topping South St. Paul’s Quinn Christoffersen to win the 195-pound title.

“I know he’s been one of those guys who’s worked so hard to get it, so it meant a lot. It really did,” Will Short said.

Will said the feelings Friday was nearly identical to when Mack won his title as a senior.

“I call it relief,” he said. “We’ve done the work, just have to wrestle the matches. There’s joy and relief. Those are the two things I felt. I’m happy for the families, happy for my brothers, their dads and also happy for the kids. A lot of joy and lot of relief.”

TABOR ‘HEAVYWEIGHT’

Bennett Tabor survived an overtime thriller against Foley’s Elijah Novak in the state semifinals — a match that left his face swollen to where he could hardly speak after the game — then beat Kessler Kenning 12-5 to win his second state title.

“I could only see out of my right eye and had no depth perception,” Tabor said. “But I just really wanted it, so I ignored the pain and tried to dig deep and push through.”

The Simley senior and Gophers commit weighed in at 205 pounds Friday, nowhere near the heavyweight weight. So he was at a large size disadvantage, which is nothing new to him.

“I go into every match knowing that I’m giving up anywhere from 10 to 70 pounds,” Tabor said. “I know I won’t be able to out muscle or outweigh any of the guys I’m wrestling, so I always try to focus on being faster and having better technique than the other guy.”

REDEMPTION

Two Simley wrestlers earned redemption in the state finals. Simley sophomore Gavin Nelson completed an undefeated season to win a state title this year, after finishing runnerup in 2020.

At 138 pounds, Chase DeBlaere avenged his only loss of the season, which came in the state prelims, in the final, where he bested Byron’s Maxwell Petersen. The title was DeBlaere’s third.

BRIEFLY

Totino-Grace senior Adam Sylvester completed an undfeated season to win the 182-pound title.

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