High school wrestling

Bruns pins down elusive state title in final high school match

Lion senior battles painful arthritis, but still realizes mat success
By Mark Haskell | Mar 10, 2017
Photo by: Mark Haskell Belfast's Brendan Bruns in front of the school trophy case.

Belfast — There is no better way to finish a high school career than to hoist a state championship high for all to see.

Just ask Belfast Area High School senior wrestler Brendan Bruns.

Bruns, who amassed a 133-18 record in his four-year mat career and placed several times in conference, regional and state tournaments — including winning a regional title as a sophomore — captured the elusive state Class B championship in the 113-pound weight class on Saturday, Feb. 18 at Bucksport High School.

He capped his senior season with a 33-6 record — including having his arm raised in victory in his final match.

At the state tournament, Bruns bested Evrit Roy of Mountain Valley by technical fall 15-0 and then beat Ryan Norton of Wells 7-1, which set up the state championship match between he and Codi Sirois of Penobscot Valley.

Sirois had beaten Bruns in the finals of the regional championship meet a week prior in Caribou, thus, that set up a rematch between the two for the state crown.

“I lost to him 7-0 at regionals,” said Bruns. “After my [regional] semifinal match, my legs were done for the day. So my coaches decided [prior to the state meet] that it’d be best to stay off them. I usually run legs a lot but we figured it’d be best to save it for finals, so I came in with a lot more strength in my legs.”

In the state final, Bruns trailed 2-0 in the first period, but he said his coaches told him afterward “they saw I still had a lot of fight left and it seemed like I was tiring him [Sirois] out."

Then at the 5:04-mark of the championship match, Bruns pinned Sirois’ back to the mat and ended his high school career with his first state title.

“He tried to do a Peterson roll on me,” said Bruns of Sirois. “I’m still not 100 percent how I caught him. I kind of caught his shoulder with my arm and kind of pinched down on it and ended up getting on top. And I just used it to pull him over onto his back.”

“Brendan was one of our captains this year,” said Belfast wrestling coach Rick Kelley. “He’s a four-year wrestler. And he’s one of those kids that has always been very talented. He’s one of the tougher kids we have on the team.”

The state championship victory was a culmination of all his hard work not just this season, but over the past four — some of which was marred by injury.

“It almost feels like you’re not even tired after you do it because you have that surge of adrenaline still,” Bruns said of his state championship win. “Then after you calm down a little bit it was almost like it didn’t even happen. Then the pain kicked in.”

Bruns has battled joint issues over the past few years and was told, by a doctor, as a sophomore he had the beginning stages of juvenile arthritis, in addition to having surgery on his left meniscus after his sophomore season.

And his junior season ended due to injury as well at the state Class B wrestling championships at Oceanside High School. Bruns secured his 100th career win in his opening match, but later lost by injury default to another wrestler.

“A kid came low and shot right in on him on his bad knee and popped it backwards,” said Kelley. “So I had to scratch him from the state meet. That was a real tough decision to make. His knee was swelling up and he could barely bend it.”

Bruns also finished as state runner-up his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Bruns’ senior year got off to a great start as he finished first in his weight division at the Noble Invitational on Dec. 28-29, but his arthritis began to flare up again following his win.

“When you do something like that, your competition, when they get a chance to wrestle you, they mark you on their calendar like, ‘This is a kid where I’m going to be able to test where I’m at,’ ” said Kelley. “Unfortunately, right after he won the Noble tournament, he started having joint issues again. And for the rest of the season he just wasn’t the same caliber wrestler because he was struggling with pain.”

Bruns adjusted throughout the season and changed his style, largely to preserve himself for the championship meets. Though he was still not 100 percent at the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference and regional tournaments.

“His headlights were dimming,” said Kelley. “You could see it. He just wasn’t himself out there.”

That changed the morning of the state championships.

“On state meet day we got his swelling under control, he had some of those electrostatic things on his legs that were helping a little bit before his match,” said Kelley. “And he went out there, and you could just see. You could tell right away, ‘The kid that won the Noble tournament is back.’ ”

Bruns said, “You can feel almost instantly the pressure coming off” after his state championship win, but he is still feeling the affects physically from his championship-winning season.

“It’s been maybe three weeks since states happened and I still can’t run,” he said. “My knees were purple for a couple weeks after states.”

By and large, Bruns may seem an unlikely state champion. He first tried the sport as a sixth grader at Troy Howard Middle School and “wasn’t very good.”

“My sixth-grade year I think I might have won one match. Then my seventh-grade year I was around average. I think I finished third in the league.”

“I improved a lot in middle school going from winning like a match to winning most of them.”

Bruns put in a great deal of work in the offseasons, which he said helped mightily in his improvement.

“I don’t think it’s possible to win a state championship without working in the offseason,” Bruns said. “If you just do the season itself, you’re going to be back at square one when you get back next year. To win a state championship you have to work in the summers. There’s no way around it.”

He added that Troy Howard Middle School coach Brent Waterman also had a lot to do with his success on the mats.

“He thought I’d do a good job so he had me come to one of his practices and started rolling with me,” said Bruns. “I honestly probably would have quit if he hadn’t given my that extra time and help me get better.”

And while his days of competing in the high school ranks may be finished, he still has plenty to offer the program.

Kelley said he often asks former wrestlers to come back and help, not just so they can help give back to the program and community, but so they can assist in the improvement of the high school-aged grapplers.

“Trying to get that level of enthusiasm and skill level is hard to create [in practices] sometimes when you don’t have enough talent in the room,” said Kelley. “And when you have [experienced, graduated] people that come back, there’s more competition.”

When he entered high school, Bruns was taken under the wing of older Lion wrestlers like Mike McFadden and Walker Roberts. Now, as a senior and elder statesman, Bruns did the same for younger grapplers on the team, notably Elijah Charbonnier and Patrick Curtis.

And his ability to relate to the younger grapplers may have secured him a spot on the coaching staff for next season.

“[Coach Kelley] noticed how well I do with some of the underclassmen because that’s kind of how our team is structured,” said Bruns. “The upperclassmen teach the underclassman and try to bring them up to their level, and he saw how well I did with that. So, I guess I’m not quite done.”

Personal information

Name: Brendan Bruns.

Age: 17.

Grade: Senior at Belfast Area High School.

Parents: William and Elizabeth Bruns.

Town: Belfast.

Favorite athlete: Ross Peterson.

Favorite personal moments in sports: Winning the Noble tournament and the state Class B championship with my coaches.

Favorite courses in school: Physics and chemistry.

TV show you never miss: South Park.

Favorite movie: The Campaign.

Food you pig out on: Steak.

Favorite book: “The Jedi Path” by Daniel Wallace.

Hobbies: Roughhousing with my little brothers and hiking.

Vehicle you wish you were driving: An American muscle car.

Person you most want to meet (dead or alive): Alexander The Great.

Most influential people in your life: My coaches Brent Waterman, Travis Spencer and Rick Kelley, along with girlfriend Noelle Morris.

Future plans: Interested in criminal justice or environmental science.

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Staff Profile

Mark Haskell
Associate Sports Director
594-4401, ext. 116
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Mark has been covering local sports throughout Knox, Waldo and part of Lincoln county since 2007. Haskell has a bachelor's degree in Mass Communication from the University of Maine and is also a 2000 graduate of Rockland District High School. He has won multiple Maine Press Association awards for writing and photography.

Mark loves the Boston Red Sox, iced coffee, cargo shorts and time with friends and family.

He resides in Thomaston with his wife Jenn, his sons Beckett and Austin and daughter Lila.

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