It took Jake Bergeland five years to work his way into the Minnesota Gophers wrestling lineup, but once he grabbed that 141-pound slot, he made the best of the opportunity.
The former Centennial state champion earned All-America status this season, placing seventh in the NCAA Championships and posting a 24-9 overall record.
“It meant a lot to finally be a starter and get the opportunity to prove what I was capable of, to wrestle against the best and make my mark,” said Bergeland, who’s a senior but has one more year of eligibility.
“Nationals is where I have always dreamed of wrestling so I didn’t feel a lot of pressure, just relief and joy to be living out my dream.”
Bergeland saw action in invitational and open tournaments the last four years but only had two career matches in the dual meet lineup.
“I was behind multiple national qualifiers, All-Americans, and ranked wrestlers, each year I was here,” said Bergeland.
This season, he moved up the pecking order and won the job after the first tournament. He posted a 4-3 record in Big Ten dual meets, then placed third in the conference tournament at Nebraska, winning three of five matches.
That qualified him for the NCAA meet,held in Detroit at Little Caesars Arena, March 17-19.
At nationals, seeded No. 10, Bergeland beat Edinboro’s Gabe Willochell 9-1 and Northwestern’s Tai Shahar 5-3 in the first two rounds, to reach the quarterfinals, where he lost to North Carolina’s Kizhan Clark 3-0. He needed two lower-bracket wins to get on the podium.
Against No. 5 seed Andrew Alirez of Northern Colorado, his opponent got the opening takedown, but Bergeland quickly reversed him, leading to a pin in 2:25, just his second pin of the season.
In the seventh-place match, Bergeland cruised 10-0 over Penn’s C.J. Composto. The top eight in each weight are All-Americans.
“The adversity of the first four years of college, in a way, prepared me to go through a season such as this one, filled with ups and downs, to pursue the goal of being on the podium at nationals,” Bergeland reflected.
Previously, Bergeland’s ledger, in open tournaments and invitationals, was as follows: freshman redshirt season, 22-11; freshman season, 5-4 before an injury forced him out; sophomore season, 17-7, including 1-1 in dual meets; junior season, 8-1.
“I was going to stick it out to the end so I would have no regrets, but it was hard, especially going into my senior year having the struggles and constant battles to break through,” Bergeland said. “There were many times when the doubt would creep in but I just kept willing myself to push through.”
At Centennial, Bergeland, coached by his father, John, posted a 170-19 record, with first-, second-, and fourth-place state finishes, graduating in 2017.
Bergeland will graduate this spring with a major in applied economics. He has applied to graduate school for sports management, hoping to “work in the sports world and also stay around wrestling.”
Most college athletes have been granted another year of eligibility due to a season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Bergeland intends to take advantage. “I plan on using it next year with grad school,” he said, “with goals of being a national champion and getting a team trophy.”