Ken Wunderley profiles Belle Vernon wrestler Jarod Verkleeren, who won a Cadet National Freestyle title at Fargo.
Jarod Verkleeren experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in the wide world of amateur wrestling during the month of July.
Verkleeren, who recently completed his freshman year at Belle Vernon High School, made his international debut at the FILA Cadet World Wrestling Freestyle Championships July 15-20 in Snina, Slovakia.
"I didn't wrestle to my full potential," said Verkleeren, who made a quick exit from the tournament after losing in the first round of the 63-kilogram weight class, which translates to 138.75 pounds. "It was disappointing to travel that far and lose in the first round."
Verkleeren could have returned to Pittsburgh and enjoyed the final weeks of his summer vacation. Instead, the Belle Vernon wrestler wanted another chance to show everybody what he was capable of doing.
"I wanted to wrestle at Fargo," said Verkleeren, referring to the USA Wrestling Cadet National Freestyle Championships July 23-26 at the Fargodome on the campus of North Dakota State University. "I wanted to go last year, but an injury kept me from competing."
Verkleeren was determined to make the trip, but the Pennsylvania team had already arrived in Fargo.
"My mom and dad made the trip to Slovakia with me," Verkleeren said. "The morning after we arrived back in Pittsburgh, my father and I flew to Fargo."
Verkleeren made his Fargo debut the following day and recorded seven consecutive victories in the three-day competition to claim the 145-pound weight class.
"I cut to 138.75 for the world tournament, since they don't have a weight class that translates to 145 pounds," Verkleeren said. "That's why I wrestled at 145 at Fargo."
Verkleeren recorded a technical fall in all but one of his bouts and outscored his opponents, 74-10.
"The only close match I had was in the quarterfinals," said Verkleeren, referring to his match with Oregon's Layne VanAnrooy. "The match ended in a tie [8-8], but I won by criteria."
Verkleeren capped his title with a dominating 11-0 victory against Idaho's Matthew Park in the finals.
"[Park] was the Greco-Roman champ," said Verkleeren, who did not return in time to compete in the Greco-Roman tournament. "As soon as I stepped off the mat, they interviewed me over the public address system. It was pretty cool to be recognized that way."
Then came the medal ceremony.
"They turned on the smoke machines when we came out to the mat to receive our medals," Verkleeren said. "It was pretty awesome. It's clearly the biggest accomplishment of my career."
Verkleeren was able to share the experience with his father. His mother did not attend, but did follow his matches on the Internet.
"FloWrestling put every match on the Internet, so my mom didn't have to miss anything," Verkleeren said. "She may not have been with us, but she got to see everything."
Verkleeren had hoped to make the trip to Fargo last summer, but an injury kept him from competing.
"I suffered a torn labrum while competing [for the Pennsylvania Team] at Cadet Nationals," Verkleeren said. "I missed the next five months."
Verkleeren made his high school debut as a 145-pound freshman at Belle Vernon during the 2013-14 school year, but the injury kept him out of the lineup until midseason.
"I came back and wrestled in the final two months of the season, but couldn't get into a groove," Verkleeren said. "I finally felt good when I wrestled at Akron."
Verkleeren was impressive after his return from the injury. He won a Class AAA Section 2 title, then qualified for the PIAA tournament by placing third in the WPIAL at 145 pounds. He finished the season with a 21-6 record after losing two of three bouts at Hershey.
"My goal is to win WPIAL and PIAA titles, but that will not be easy at 145 pounds," Verkleeren said. "It's the strongest weight class in the WPIAL."
Three WPIAL wrestlers earned All-American status at 145 pounds at the Junior National Freestyle Tournament, also held at Fargo. Central Catholic's Vincenzo Joseph was the runner-up. Franklin Regional's Josh Maruca placed third, while Panthers teammate Michael Kemerer finished fifth. Cumberland Valley's Patrick Duggan placed eighth.