Junior Schalles Award winner Kerkvliet made season even shorter with quick pins

Updated: May 23, 2019

Photo: Greg Kerkvliet (left) got 21 pins in 22 matches (not including forfeits) for Simley High, including this 45-second fall against Brandon Swanson of North Branch in the Minnesota state tournament semifinals at heavyweight.

By Mike Finn

Greg Kerkvliet, named the winner of this year’s Junior Schalles Award as the nation’s best high school pinner, was so effective at flattening his foes this past winter that fans hardly got a chance to watch him wrestle at Simley High School in Inver Grove Heights, Minn.

After an off-season ACL injury delayed the start of his senior season until January, the eventual four-time Minnesota state champ wrestled just 24 times this winter; pinning 21 foes to go with two forfeits and one technical fall.  Overall, the 225-pound heavyweight spent just 14 minutes and 58 seconds in varsity high school wrestling matches and never wrestled past the first period of any bout.

And of his 21 pins, 17 occurred in the first minute, including two pins in under 10 seconds. He won all four matches at the state tournament by fall in under a minute, including a 59-second fall against Logan Wingert of Plainview-Elgin-Millvillein the championship bout.

“That’s what the Junior Schalles Award is about, shortening matches,” said Wade Schalles, the legendary college pinner from Clarion who created the high school pinning award in 1999. “Greg is very rare in many aspects of athletics. He’s the type of wrestler that’s big enough, and talented enough, to excel in the NFL. He’s smart enough to do the Ivy’s, but instead he prefers to be a pinner, not someone who just pins.”

“I did my work in the wrestling room so I’d just get the first hold that I saw and locked up,” said Kerkvliet about his quick pins this season.

“One of his matches was a technical fall because he wanted to work on some things and do some moves,” said his Simley coach Will Short, who was a former high teammate of Kerkvliet’s father and has known the younger Kerkvliet since Greg was six.

Coach Short pointed out that Greg’s pinning strength is his strength and he is very effective from the top position.

“Greg is super tough on top,” Short said. “He has a great claw ride and he is extremely strong and physical, which will help him once he get to wrestling in college.”

Kerkvliet said he doesn’t have a favorite pinning hold.

“It’s whatever I’m feeling that day. A lot of them came from cradles,” said the 6-foot-3 Kerkvliet. “I’m sure my long arms helped.”

Other people also have a hard time saying his last name — pronounced KIRK-VLEET — and usually call him by the wrong first name.

“His dad put his name in Trackwrestling as Daniel, which is his real first name,” coach Short said. “If we put him in as Greg, it doesn’t match up with his trackwrestling profile. That’s why some people call him Daniel.”

Kerkvliet, who started wrestling with Smiley’s varsity program as a seventh-grader, will eventually wrestle for Ohio State after redshirting next winter. He had planned to wrestle this past winter at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs before his injury sent him home.

Once he was able to get back on the mat, he enjoyed being part of Simley’s first state team championship in four years. He said his favorite moments of this past year included, ‘Traveling with guys to the state tournaments and the connections that you make as a team.”

He also spent much of his time training in Minneapolis, Minn., with the Minnesota Storm wrestling club, which has produced plenty of talented guys in freestyle and Greco, like Kerkvliet, a 2017 Cadet World champion.

“I wanted Greg to wrestle here but I supported him 100 percent,” said Short. “It is hard to train him. Outside of Hayden Zillmer or Tony Nelson or Gable Steveson, not too many people who can wrestle with him.”

Kerkvliet, who had hoped to make the U23 World Team — which was to be decided on May 31 in Akron, Ohio  — also would like at shot at making the 2020 Olympic team … but has not settled on a weight class.

“It’s somewhat sad to see someone like Greg leaving our program,” said Coach Short of his team leader. “But whatever he does in the future, his biggest fans will be back here in Simley.”

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