Nagel’s near-misses not going to cut it at Big Tens

Junior 165-pounder Matt Nagel hasn’t yet beaten anyone ranked higher than he is.

Matt Anderson

Seven times this season, all Matt Nagel needed was one more takedown.

One more takedown, and the 165-pound Minnesota wrestling junior would finally have had a statement win against a top-10 wrestler.

But seven times, Nagel came up just short.

Now, heading into the Big Ten Championships on Saturday and Sunday in Iowa City, Iowa, the team hopes he can finally break through and help it realize high postseason expectations.

Starting Nov. 20 at the Kaufman-Brand Open against Oklahoma State’s third-ranked Johnny Hendricks and continuing to Feb. 11 against Iowa’s fourth-ranked Mark Perry, Nagel has lost 11 times to wrestlers in the top 10 at 165.

And almost every one of those times, he had a chance to win at the end.

“I was starting to really get down on myself and start losing some of my confidence,” Nagel said. “But the coaches, they kept on telling me that I was wrestling these guys for a reason, and we just kept on working on the little things that I needed to do. And I think it’s starting to pay off now.”

Perry and Michigan’s second-ranked Ryan Churella wait at the Big Tens, meaning Nagel’s performance there will mean a lot to his NCAA prospects.

“There’s a lot of validity that can come out of being a Big Ten champion,” Gophers coach J Robinson said.

Nagel, 21-12 and ranked 10th, has victories against ranked opponents this year; he beat Illinois’ 14th-ranked Donny Reynolds, Northern Iowa’s 12th-ranked Nick Baima twice and won a major decision against Edinboro’s 11th-ranked Nate Yetzer.

Still, Nagel has not won against a wrestler ranked higher than he is in the current rankings, and the trend of close losses against top opponents extends back to last year.

Wrestling at 157, Nagel lost by three points or less five times to opponents ranked in the top 11 in January and February 2004.

This January, Nagel ran into a buzzsaw of highly ranked opponents and, each time, walked away on the short end of a close decision.

He dropped seven matches in a row from Jan. 4-23 and, in five of them, the margin of defeat was by less than three points.

“It’s got to be pretty frustrating, especially when he’s wrestling them back to back like at National Duals,” sophomore heavyweight Cole Konrad said. “I guess the experience was good too, just starting to figure them out, and hopefully he’ll break through here going into the Big Tens.”

Both Nagel and Robinson said they have seen progress in Nagel’s wrestling against highly ranked opponents as the year has gone on.

And with the gauntlet of high-caliber competition he’s gone through, Nagel said the timing was not overly detrimental.

“Anybody doesn’t want to lose that much, but I think it’s better to get it done earlier in the season like that,” Nagel said. “So now, it doesn’t happen in the end.

Robinson said that even though Nagel has lost close matches to top opponents, the wrestler’s season up to this point has been a success.

“If you judge (his season) based on wins and losses, most people would say he’s having an OK season,” Robinson said. “If you judge it by progress, the way he’s progressed both mentally and the way he’s learning to change his wrestling, I think he’s done great.”

Osborn is 149 starter

Sophomore Quincy Osborn defeated classmate Danny Williams this weekend in a best-of-three wrestle-off to claim the 149-pound starting spot for the Big Ten Championships.

Osborn split the starting role at 141 with Tommy Owen all season until losing a wrestle-off two weeks ago. Osborn has made one start at 149, a 4-2 loss to seventh-ranked Ty Eustice of Iowa on Feb. 11.

Big Ten releases seeds

The Big Ten released the conference tournament seedings Monday, with eight Gophers earning seeds and Konrad being named the top seed at heavyweight.

Redshirt freshman 133-pounder Mack Reiter was seeded second, and Nagel was seeded third.