Teammates since high school in Perham, Minn., Justin Berns ‘11 and Phil Moenkedick ‘11 are the catalysts of Concordia’s rise to prominence in NCAA Division III wrestling.
They have both won a record 126 matches and counting as Cobbers, both are All-Americans and while Moenkedick is the defending national champion at 184-pounds, Berns hopes to surpass his national tournament seventh place finish at 149-pounds.
“This year, our whole team might qualify for nationals,” says Moenkedick. “It’s not out of the question. We have the talent here.”
That’s not a boast from one of the soft-spoken, dominating duo. It’s a prediction based on the confidence they have attained as winners on the mat.
“Our senior class has been responsible for elevating the program,” says Berns. “And now the underclassmen look up to us as role models and leaders. For Phil and me, it’s all about our team.”
Berns chose to wrestle at Concordia after coaching legend Clay Nagel was hired to re-build the Cobber program. Moenkedick, who has a brother wrestling at North Dakota State, chose the Cobbers over the Bison so he could also pitch for the baseball team.
“We never talked about where we’d go to college,” says Berns. “We both came here for different reasons and we’ve always felt real comfortable here. We’ve made huge strides as wrestlers at Concordia.”
Both downplay their record-setting string of victories as individual accomplishments.
“We’ve learned so much about wrestling in our four years. The intensity level is so much higher than in high school,” says Moenkedick. “The wins aren’t as important to us as being able to perform at a high level and maintain our focus.”
Along with the national tournament, both say their career highlight was defeating three MIAC opponents before their hometown fans in Perham.
“That was so much fun,” says Moenkedick. “It’s the biggest crowd and best atmosphere we’ve ever wrestled in front of. It was great to have our hometown fans share those victories with us.”