Athlete of Week: Second sport grows on Bernhardt

Carolina Forest senior Braeden Bernhardt’s first love is lacrosse. But with all due respect to his favorite sport, he hopes his final season on  the field starts a little later this spring.

That’s because Bernhardt and the Panthers wrestling team are poised to post new records on the mat this season. Carolina Forest hosts the first two rounds of the Class 5A playoffs on Saturday, and two wins would send the Panthers to the Lower State semifinals for the first time in program history. Furthermore, Bernhardt hopes to qualify for the individual state tournament for the first time in his five-year wrestling career – a move that might postpone his lacrosse season for a few weeks.

“Lacrosse has always been my favorite sport; wrestling was just for fun,” said Bernhardt, who was voted the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the week after going 3-0 and helping the Panthers secure their third straight Region 6-5A title. “But this year we have a chance to do something big,Our team has never made it to the third round before so we want to do that and see how far we can go.

“I haven’t made it to (individual) states before. My goal is to finish in the top four, but just to make it to the final eight would be an accomplishment.”

That hasn’t stopped him from pulling some double duty on the wrestling mat and the lacrosse field as  has been spending time working out with both squads It’s a routine he has grown familiar with in recent years while he was playing both sports – school and club – to improve his skills.

“Wrestling started out just for fun and as a way to stay in shape for lacrosse, but I wanted to get better at it,” Bernhardt said. “In the summers I would go to Tough Time (Wrestling Club) practices in the mornings and go out to play lacrosse at nights. It was tough but it is great to see the hard work paying off.”

Bernhardt also tried his hand at football, a tough sport for a kid who wrestles in the 120-pound class. “My freshman year I played center and I weighed 124 pounds, but I could snap the ball and block. My sophomore year I played linebacker. I hit this guy who weighed about 300 pounds right in the chest and I just bounced off him,” he laughed. “I loved football but it was a struggle trying to gain weight for football season and then lose weight for wrestling season.”

Carolina Forest coach Forrest Blake, a longtime football and wrestling coach, can see that Bernhardt is a football player trapped in a wrestler’s body. “He definitely has that mentality. He gets after it,” Blake said. “He’s also a great kid and teammate. A lot of the lighter weights are younger kids and Braeden works with them and helps them get better. Those are the kind of kids you need to build a program.”

Bernhardt knows the last match of his career is not far away, but he still has plenty of time for lacrosse in his future. After his senior season with the Panthers, Bernhardt plans to play lacrosse at the college level. He has verbally committed to Newberry College, which also has a wrestling program. So would he consider pulling double duty at the next level?

“No way,” Bernhardt joked. “This is my last shot at wrestling and I want to make the most of it.”

Photo by Prep Stars Media

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