Payton Burgdorf had apparently had enough. He was piling up the wins during his freshman season at Firelands last year and yet somehow his name was not creeping up the Division II state rankings at 106 pounds.
“All the coaches always tell me not to look at the rankings, but of course everyone is looking at the rankings,” Burgdorf said. “So when I’m looking and I see that I’m not ranked, I’m like, ‘Man, I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. Am I not beating kids that I should be? Or are they not noticing who I am?’
“But I feel like not being ranked really helped me. I didn’t have that much pressure. I just went out and wrestled.”
Burgdorf finished as the sectional runner-up after a 2-0 loss to Padua’s Jimmy Balazy, and the district runner-up after a 7-3 loss to Wauseon’s Gavin Ritter. He was then smacked in the face with a 12-2 major decision loss to Tallmadge’s Edward Suber in the first round in Columbus.
Burgdorf bounced back with a four-match win streak — including a 6-0 win over Ritter in the consolation second round — and finished fourth in the state. Balazy and Ritter didn’t place, and Suber finished seventh.
The podium finish was the first for Firelands since 1960 and just the school’s second ever.
“It’s nice to have a guy that’s established himself with his state placement, because at the end of the day that reflects on me and our program,” Falcons first-year coach Josh Walbom said. “He picks up our team when we need it.”
Burgdorf began his wrestling career in the Firelands biddy system, began competing in live matches at Amherst and eventually found himself working out at Burnett Trained Wrestling. He spent his middle schools years wrestling for the BTW club team, then made his debut at the Edison Invitational last December.
“I was scared to death of that,” Burgdorf said. “The first tournament of the year I had to wrestle a senior. I was like, ‘Man, this kid is like 18 and I’m still 14. I’m not sure how this match is going to go.’ It just freaked me out.”
Burgdorf beat the senior and everyone else that stepped onto the mat with him before suffering a 12-3 major decision defeat to Edison’s Ray Adams in the final.
“The first loss of the season, it was kind of devastating,” Burgdorf said. “After I lost, I realized I had to critique myself on some stuff. I just got whooped on. I knew I had to step up to the next level and figure out what those kids were doing so that I could beat them.”
What a difference a year makes.
While Burgdorf was placing fourth in Division II, Adams took seventh in Division III. The pair met again in the Edison Invitational final last weekend.
“I got my first look at the guys this weekend at Edison, and even before the finals match, against a kid that majored him last year — a returning state placer — Payton was just all smiles and very relaxed,” Walbom said. “And he ended up going out there and beating him pretty handedly.”
Burgdorf came away with a 9-3 decision. It may have been Adams who felt the nerves during the latest matchup, as Burgdorf is ranked No. 2 in the state by Intermat.
“It’s like a different mentality I have this year,” Burgdorf said. “Last year I went into matches thinking, ‘Can I beat this kid? I’m not sure I can beat him because he’s ranked.’ This year being ranked high, I feel like I can beat anyone right now.”
Walbom first met Burgdorf when he was in the seventh grade. Then Firelands coach Josh Malave invited the Dukes grad to run a Greco-Roman practice at the school while he was home on leave from the Coast Guard.
Walbom was wrestling for the All-Navy team at the time and was nationally ranked in the Greco-Roman style.
“All the coaches pointed him out and said, ‘You know, this kid is going to be really good,’” Walbom said. “He was kind of head and shoulders above the rest. You have to give credit where credit is due. The kid’s got an unbelievable work ethic.
“It’s nice to have that go-to guy in your lineup, especially in the front of the lineup. He kind of sets the tone for the rest of the team, whether it be in a dual meet or in the finals of a tournament. It’s kind of nice having him around.”
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