Clay sophomore wrestler Matt Stencel walked away from the Ohio state wrestling tournament on March 1 just a tad disappointed, but he’s since made amends.
Stencel lost to Perrysburg senior Rocco Caywood, 7-3, in the 182-pound Division I championship match in Columbus and, mentally, he’s not going to let that one go. Stencel, however, has literally been unbeatable ever since.
Three weeks ago Stencel won both freestyle and Greco-Roman titles at the USA Wrestling Freestyle and Greco State Tournament at Western Brown High School in Cincinnati. Stencel went as a member of the Lake Erie Wrestling Club, coached by Troy McLaughlin, who coached Stencel along with former Eastwood standout Eric Cubberly.
“Matt was focused,” McLaughlin said. “He had goals in mind to be a state champion in both styles and make the national team in both styles. He went out there and just crushed everybody he wrestled. In the finals he wrestled last year’s freestyle All-American, a kid who placed third at Fargo last year, and just ‘teched’ him. It wasn’t even close.”
The weekend before that tournament, Stencel competed in another freestyle/Greco tournament in Elyria and recorded either a pin or technical fall in all 10 matches.
The 6-foot-1 Stencel, who has moved up to 195 pounds, presents a difficult test for opponents his size, McLaughlin said.
“His aggression going forward, he’s an in-your-face type of wrestler,” McLaughlin said. “He’s a big guy, but he wrestles like smaller guys. He’s constantly attacking on his feet and a lot of big guys can’t handle that. They’re used to more methodical (wrestling), where they hand fight and there is throwing involved. Most people he wrestles can’t handle that type of intensity.
“Matt has a great work ethic. He’s a little carefree and he’s not afraid to test the waters. He’ll go out there and test anybody. He's going to be pretty special.”
Stencel’s performance at the USA tournament in Cincinnati qualified him to compete for the Ohio National Team in July at the Fargo (N.D.) Nationals. McLaughlin said Stencel was impressive in both styles of wrestling in Cincinnati.
“He was one of the most dominant wrestlers in the tournament,” McLaughlin said. “He either teched or pinned everybody he wrestled. He’s just a phenom in freestyle and Greco. There’s nobody close to him. I predict he will be a national Cadet champion. He qualified to wrestle on the national team in July, and he’ll train at Lakewood St. Edward for the Ohio team. I’ve coached that team the last three years, and we take 56 of the best wrestlers in Ohio and compete against the best from the all around the country.”
The question is posed to Stencel: freestyle or Greco-Roman?
“Greco,” he said. “It’s a lot easier. You don’t have worry about people touching your legs, and it’s not as intense. Just one less thing you have to defend. Greco is a lot of throwing and upper body. I like to do that; that just comes naturally to me. I know the moves I need to do. I’m also taller and I have lots of leverage, and my arms are longer and I can reach around and manipulate my hands.”
Stencel said winning both titles in Cincinnati gave him equal satisfaction. The Greco-Roman portion of the tournament came first.
“I wanted to get on the Fargo team,” Stencel said. “I made it for Greco when I won that (title), but it was important to win freestyle so I could be on both teams. We will go to Fargo for a week, and that is known to be the hardest high school tournament in the country.”
The Fargo Nationals are July 20-26, and Stencel is already counting down the days. He will compete on the Cadet team at 195 pounds.
“I’m pretty excited,” said Stencel, who finished 40-6 with 26 pins for coach Ralph Cubberly’s Clay squad last winter. “I’m going there to win it. This will be my first time going, and hopefully I’ll do well. I’m planning on wrestling in the Olympics when I get older.”
Stencel credited a lot of his passion for wrestling to his older brother, Nick, a senior at Clay. Nick, who finished 44-7 and placed third at 160 pounds at the state tournament in Columbus, will wrestle at Cleveland State beginning this fall.
“We’re always so competitive,” Matt said. “It always came down to who got the front seat when we were little. He’s getting older now and so am I, so we’ve matured about it. We’re probably even more competitive when we wrestle. He’s older and I’m bigger, and we just always go at it.”
Stencel often got extra practice time this past season after Ralph Cubberly and former Clay assistant and Genoa head coach Richard Wagner hooked Stencel up with Kurt Wolf, a former standout at Genoa. Wolf took seventh place at 171 pounds at the 2007 D-III state tournament.
“Me and Kurt would practice for another hour after regular practice,” Stencel said. “I would do drills with him every day, and that always helped. Coach Cubberly helped me out with that. He is a really good coach and he realized he needed to bring somebody in here to wrestle with me, because I needed somebody better. Kurt started coming over at the beginning of the year and we bonded really well.”
Stencel said he will participate in the camp at Lakewood St. Edward the week before going to Fargo. The wrestlers, who will stay in volunteer families’ homes in Lakewood, will train for a week before heading west.
“I have a good feeling I’m going to take first,” Stencel said. “If you’re not first, you’re last.”