BATAVIA – Batavia junior 160-pound wrestler Jake Birkhaug earned a technical fall to close Thursday’s dual against St. Charles North, a springboard for any last-minute studying for today’s pre-calculus final.
Standing on the other side of the gym, North freshman 106-pounder Kolbe O’Brien unveiled a brand of mathematics that’s not in the book.
“I like to take away the forfeits,” O’Brien said, “to see if the guys that we had wrestle did well.”
North won four of nine contested bouts, and was in position for majority rule until Birkhaug’s bout sealed a 57-18 win in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division.
For a team scrambling just to fill its varsity lineup, the North Stars (1-4 UEC River) certainly made the Bulldogs (1-1) sweat in spots.
“Not only do you want to win by points, but you want to win as a team,” Birkhaug said. “Just for morale – and, you know, it’s a real victory when you get more matches than the other team.”
Batavia accepted five forfeits, beginning with Nate Kearney at 170 to start the night. Once the Bulldogs had opponents to shake hands with, first-year North coach Ben Hummel watched his athletes respond to a recent challenge to amp up their aggressiveness.
There was O’Brien, an up-and-coming talent, earning three near-falls in the first period. Thirteen seconds into the second, he figured out what his holds were lacking and pinned Andrew Esch.
“I think it was just settling in, the turn that I already had,” O’Brien said. “I kind of learned that I maybe need to take things slower and work on technique more when I’m getting my moves.”
After Batavia’s Michael Doranski responded with a major decision at 113 and the Bulldogs took another forfeit, North compiled three consecutive victories.
Working back from a broken leg, Conrad Noverini won a decision at 126. Steve Collins took another decision at 132, and Jake Chantos got a second-period fall at 138.
The North Stars forfeit four of the five heaviest weight classes – freshman Gavin Thatcher lost by technical fall to Nick Offutt at 182 – but remain enthused that their cohesiveness can help accommodate.
“We’re pretty close, the team,” Chantos said. “We hang out a lot. We interact well.”
Batavia can attest. After meeting for a post-dual huddle and loading up the mat, the Bulldogs retreated to their wrestling room as coach Scott Bayer and Co. distributed T-shirts and other team apparel.
Whether it was practice or equipment pick-up, Birkhaug recalls a room of 23 wrestlers over all levels as a freshman. This season – Bayer’s second after a lengthy stint as an assistant in the program – nearly 60 Bulldogs are participating in the sport, Birkhaug said.
“He’s tripled the rate of the program. I mean, it’s pretty incredible,” Birkhaug said.
Well, almost tripled, if you want to be technical. Birkhaug wasn’t yet in test mode, but at that moment, he knew one thing.
“Greatest stress-reliever in the world is wrestling,” he said. “Nothing better.”