Written by Tim Gallagher, Assistant Director of Communications
3-time NCAA Scholar All-American represents BVU at national meet
STORM LAKE - After BVU senior Brad Kerkhoff pulled off a 9-2 upset that guaranteed him a spot at the NCAA Division III National Tournament, he walked off the mat and gave a nod and fist pump to his coaches, teammates, family members and friends.
Then, per his practice, Kerkhoff walked to a quiet place in an adjacent hallway at the Five Flags Center in Dubuque, out of view of fans and well-wishers. "I like to find a place where I can be by myself," he says.
In seconds, he had company, as his mother, Kathy Kerkhoff, of Audubon, hustled to his side, showing tears of joy. "You made it! You're going to Nationals!" she exclaimed.
The journey, they say, sometimes eclipses the destination. Minutes before a practice session with the entire Beavers team last week, Kerkhoff admits he isn't ready to confirm that theory. He knows this much: The journey in becoming BVU's first national wrestling qualifier in four years has been worth the wait, worth the work.
"My mom held it together when I won a big match in Chicago earlier this year," says Kerkhoff, the youngest of six children of Blane and Kathy Kerkhoff, of Audubon. "But she didn't this time. I'll always remember her crying, because it shows how incredible my support network is now and how incredible it's always been. I'm very grateful."
Kerkhoff, 10-2 over his last 12 matches, takes a 27-9 record into the national meet at Roanoke, Virginia, on Friday and Saturday. The former Audubon High School Wheeler who wrestled for his father earned his berth by reaching the finals of the NCAA Division III Lower Midwest Regional meet last weekend in Dubuque, getting to the championship round by winning matches of 15-1, 9-8 and 9-2, the last of which came against a wrestler previously ranked No. 1 in Division III this season, the regional meet's top seed at 165 pounds.
"Before that match (the 9-2 win), Coach (Mark) Rial had a quick chat with me and laid out a plan of attack," Kerkhoff remembers. "The match ended up playing out exactly as coach said it would. He's a genius that way. And, we had so much synergy in that match between me and my coaches in the corner. It was a real group effort."
Kerkhoff would drop the championship match, 9-0, not that it mattered all that much. The champion, Kerkhoff, and the third-place finisher all advanced to the national meet.
Following the thrilling weekend in Dubuque, Kerkhoff reflected on his career as a Beaver while simultaneously looking ahead to Nationals. He came to BVU intent in laying the foundation for a resurgent program. Being the first national qualifier since 2015, one might say he met that mission.
One of the most important team outcomes of a Nationals berth is the fact practice for the entire squad continues for one week, through Nationals. After meeting for an interview, the 3-time NCAA Scholar All-American reported to the wrestling room in the lower level of Siebens Fieldhouse. The exercise science/human performance major walked in and greeted a host of teammates already dressed in shorts, t-shirts and wrestling shoes, awaiting the start of another practice session.
"We traveled back from Dubuque on Monday and then we lifted as a team on Tuesday," Kerkhoff says. "We have practice on Wednesday and the rest of the week in preparation. You'll notice it's the whole team practicing because we want this to be the standard. We want practice during this week (the first week of March) to be business as usual here."
Kerkhoff says he'll be ready for competition in his 18-man bracket. Wrestling in the rugged American Rivers Conference and beyond has prepared him for this moment, as have his BVU coaches, his teammates, his fellow BVU senior class members and his family, many of whom are making the trip to Virginia to cheer him on.
"Every close male role model I have reacted the same way when I earned the berth to Nationals," he says. "They all said, 'Good job,' but didn't carry on like it was some miracle. They all told me to focus on what was ahead."
Older brother Blair went a step further. As he watched Brad wrestle in Chicago earlier this season, Blair noticed how worn and tattered Brad's shoes had become. Fearing Brad's shoes would fall apart by season's end, Blair brought his shoes to the regional meet. He handed Brad those shoes when the competition ended. He congratulated the younger brother he grew up wrestling against.
"You leveled up," he said with a nod as he handed his shoes to Brad.
Brad Kerkhoff smiles and says his older brother's shoes will come in handy as he represents the school, the team, and all those who joined him on a journey to his sport's biggest stage. In many ways, he says, they've all walked a mile in his wrestling shoes, even members of the BVU Class of 2019, peers Kerkhoff has on his mind on the eve of another workout.
"Coming to BVU feels like it's been successful," says Kerkhoff, a 3-time NCAA Scholar All-American. "Sometimes, the results of success haven't always been obvious. But I've seen things with our class, not just in the wrestling room. The BVU seniors, as a group across campus, are open, inviting and extremely positive."
They'll be with him, this Beaver sporting a "new" pair of old shoes, the accomplished student-athlete seeking his quiet place, capping his career at Nationals.