For Nagel, experience worth the weight (mismatch)

Brian Stensaas

Matt Nagel has been through this before.

Seven years ago, Nagel – then in the seventh grade – tipped the scales at a slim 88 pounds. He wrestled boys at the 103 weight class with minimal success, finishing the year with a losing record after succumbing to several pins.

His father, Clay, worried then. Not so much about the losses his son was enduring, but more about his safety.

Now those feelings are erupting all over again.

The younger Nagel, today a freshman for Minnesota’s third-ranked wrestling team, is listed at 157, actually weighs in around a trim 168 and does battle on a weekly basis in the 184 weight class.

“It takes a special kind of kid to do something like that,” said the elder Nagel, a veteran of wrestling both as a participant and as a coach. “I give him credit. But as a parent, it’s pretty scary to watch.”

After redshirting last season, Nagel received word he was being bumped up to a higher weight class early last month – the same time All-American Damion Hahn moved from 184 to 197.

Rather than worrying about wrestling at a higher weight and the losses that most certainly would come along with the move, Nagel embraced the opportunity.

“It’s a gradual process; I’m not used to losing,” the Frazee, Minn., native said. “I can’t do the same old stuff. I have to wrestle much more conservative.”

After going 0-3 at the National Duals last month in the 184 class, Nagel rebounded a week later against Michigan State in the Big Ten home opener.

He avenged his Duals loss to the Spartans’ Jeff Clemens, nabbing a 5-1 decision win.

It was a bright spot in an otherwise dull meet for the Gophers’ non-All-Americans. Transfer Derek Phillips was the only other non-returning starter to earn a victory.

“I knew I couldn’t get discouraged,” Nagel said of the losses. “I just had to fight back and remember that I’m doing this to learn.”

For his perseverance, Nagel has been rewarded. Rather than watching dual meets in street clothes while defending NCAA champion Luke Becker takes care of business at 157, Nagel is gaining valuable experience on the mat.

“It’s keeping him fresh,” Minnesota coach J Robinson said. “He can learn a lot from this. It allows him to not have to worry about making weight. Now he can just worry about gaining more strength and being in better shape.”

Nagel’s stay in the upper weight classes won’t be a long one. In addition to only wrestling once this weekend – likely Friday night against No. 8 Michigan before sitting out Sunday against Northwestern – Nagel will drop back down to his natural weight of 157 next season.

It’s a circle to be completed much like the one seven years ago. After his horrendous seventh-grade year at 88 pounds, Nagel again wrestled at 103 the following season. He actually weighed the same as his competitors that year and went on to win a state title in each of the next five seasons.

Nagel said he wants to be a national champion at 157 someday. He hopes grappling with bigger foes helps along the way.

“Since I’m wrestling up three weights, I figured why stop,” Nagel joked. “I’ve tried Hahn a little bit. But not someone like (heavyweight Garrett) Lowney. He’s too big.”

That would make a father really worry.

Check your tickets

Friday night’s dual with the Wolverines starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion, not 2 p.m. as indicated on pre-printed tickets. Sunday’s match with the Wildcats starts at 2 p.m.

Brian Stensaas covers wrestling and welcomes

comments at [email protected]