South Xtra: Wrestling standout advances to event in Slovakia

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Jarod Verkleeren and his parents will travel to Slovakia in the middle of July, but it's not for a family vacation.

Verkleeren, who recently completed his freshman year at Belle Vernon, qualified for the FILA Cadet World Wrestling Championships July 15-20 in Snina, Slovakia.

"I'm so excited," said Verkleeren, who has never traveled overseas. "This is a real game-changer."

Verkleeren qualified by winning the 63-kilogram weight class, which translates to 138.75 pounds, at the FILA World Qualifier May 23-25 in Akron, Ohio.

He won nine consecutive bouts to win the weight class, which featured 56 of the top wrestlers in the country, including four state champions. Six of his wins were by fall or technical fall. In the title match, Verkleeren recorded a 5-1 win against Maryland's Austin Kraisser.

"I had to cut 8 pounds for the tournament, which is not a problem for most wrestlers," Verkleeren said. "But I've had Type 1 Diabetes since I was 4 years old. That was the first time I've cut that much for a tournament."

If he didn't compete at 63 kilos, Verkleeren would have had to wrestle in the 69-kilo weight class, which translates to 152 pounds.

"Managing my diabetes has been a challenge," he said. "Every day is different. I never know whether my sugar level will be high or low. I just have to keep checking."

Verkleeren is one of three WPIAL and four Pennsylvania wrestlers who will represent the United States in Slovakia. The others are Jefferson-Morgan's Gavin Teasdale, Franklin Regional's Spencer Lee and Boyertown's Jordan Wood.

"I don't know much about the tournament," Verkleeren said. "Spencer Lee has been there before, so I plan on talking with him. I want to get an idea of what to expect."

Verkleeren, Lee and the rest of the qualifiers trained last week at the University of Wisconsin's Olympic Training Center.

"We trained for six days, three sessions a day," Verkleeren said.

Verkleeren also wrestled for the Pennsylvania team that competed in the Cadet National Duals June 10-14 in Daytona, Fla. His team lost in the title match to Illinois, but Verkleeren posted seven consecutive victories in the tournament.

Verkleeren also hopes to wrestle in the USA Wrestling Cadet National Championships, which begin July 18 at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D.

"The Cadet freestyle team will be leaving for Fargo just as I'm getting back from Slovakia," he said. "I would like to wrestle at Fargo, but don't know if it will be possible."

Verkleeren made his high school debut as a 145-pound freshman in the 2013-14 school year, but missed the first month of the season with a torn labrum.

"I came back and wrestled in the final two months, but couldn't get into a groove," he said. "I finally felt good when I wrestled at Akron."

Verkleeren was impressive after his return from 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 in Hershey.

Verkleeren's older brother Derek fell short of a PIAA berth last season after suffering an elbow injury in the consolation semifinals at 152 pounds at the WPIAL tournament. The injury forced Verkleeren, who recently completed his sophomore year, to default.

"Derek was wrestling a kid he beat all year," said Jarod Verkleeren, referring to Kiski Area's Jake Ardelitz. "Fortunately, the injury wasn't as serious as we originally thought. Derek is rehabbing and should be ready for football season."

Derek Verkleeren posted a 30-6 record and has a two-year career mark of 56-16.

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