Clay's Matt Stencel, top, didn’t win a high school state title as a sophomore, but he did recently win both the Greco-Roman and freestyle national titles. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Matt Stencel possesses a physical makeup and athleticism beyond his years and now the young wrestler has perfected his technique.
The convergence of those attributes led to the most successful week of Stencel's wrestling life. Stencel, who will be a junior at Clay this fall, captured two national tournament titles at a prestigious meet last week.
Stencel won championships in both Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling in the 195-pound weight class at USA Wrestling's Cadet Nationals in Fargo, N.D.
“It's by far my best accomplishment — winning both,” Stencel said. “It is the hardest high school tournament in the nation. All the good kids go there.
“Everyone wishes they could win Fargo.”
Stencel burst on to the local wrestling scene when he won a Three Rivers Athletic Conference title in the 182-pound weight class as a freshman. Stencel had 19 pins as a freshman.
He pushed his career record to 76-16 last season, including 48 wins by pin. He won another TRAC title and finished second in the state as a sophomore at 182 in the Division I meet in March.
In order to challenge the rising sophomore, Clay coach Ralph Cubberly brought in a former state qualifier to square off in practice with Stencel. Former Genoa standout Kurt Wolff, who was a state runner-up at 160 in 2006, drilled with Stencel throughout the season.
Wolff, who is 25, said wrestling with the 15-year-old was eye-opening.
“It is like wrestling a full-grown man,” Wolff said. “The talent was there. He had it the whole time. He just needed to be pushed. He could always beat average kids but didn't know how to beat the better kids. We had to teach him to wrestle instead of being a bully and out-muscling kids.”
Stencel credited Wolff with altering his ambitions.
“Kurt really helped me out. He would come in every day after work,” Stencel said. “I started realizing my goal needed to be higher. I changed my goal to be a state champ.
“That made me train harder and harder.”
Stencel made it all the way to the state championship but fell 7-3 to Perrysburg senior Rocco Caywood. Stencel said coming up just short of his goal provided motivation to put in more work this summer.
“It was really big. It put even more fire inside me,” Stencel said. “It made me mad. After I got off the podium, I decided nobody would stop me.”
Stencel stopped every top wrestler he faced at the Cadet Nationals, going 10-0 in the 15- and 16-year-old divisions. He pinned his way to the Greco-Roman title with no opponent making it to the second period.
“I did not expect it to be that easy, but I did expect to win it,” Stencel said. “That was the goal. I was confident in myself. So I wasn't surprised.”
Stencel won the championship at 195 pounds by pinning Wyatt Harden of Oxford, Mich. It took Stencel just 58 seconds to win by fall. He hit a headlock 10 seconds into the match and kept Harden on his back. Stencel recorded five falls in the Greco-Roman style.
“I've always been a pinner all the way through my wrestling,” Stencel said. “Greco is a lot of throwing. You go from feet to back. When I get them on their back, I never let them off.”
Brimming with confidence from winning the Greco title early in the week, Stencel went 5-0 to win the Freestyle competition later in the week. Stencil defeated one of his biggest nemeses, Kobe Woods of Mishawaka, Ind., in the finals. Stencel, who had lost to Woods earlier this summer, posted a 13-4 decision.
“My goal was to stay focused and composed and not [make] a mistake,” said Stencel, who had already avenged the loss with a win over Woods in the Greco-Roman competition.
Stencel said he felt relieved after winning the freestyle title.
“The freestyle I was surprised,” he said. “Freestyle is more important because that is what college wrestling is like. It's more like folkstyle [high school] wrestling. Going out there that was the goal.
“It's a far trip and an expensive trip. I did not want to waste my time and effort. It was important for me not to screw up things and to wrestle tough.”
Wolff, who wrestled for four years at Notre Dame College near Cleveland, said winning the Cadet Nationals will help Stencel catch the eyes of college coaches.
“It's huge. That will get people looking at him,” Wolff said. “It's one of the best things you can do. It's a very hard tournament to win. It's the best kids throughout the country. They had to qualify to be there.”
Wolff said he intends to wrestle every day with Stencel again this season.
“He just made tremendous strides throughout the year,” Wolff said. “I thought he would be the first state champion Clay has ever had until Richie [Screptock] won it last year.
“That should be Matt's goal.”
Stencel has wrestled in 45 matches during the “offseason.” He has compiled a 43-2 record while competing in meets and camps in Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio.
“It takes time to get good. Wrestling takes a lot of time,” he said.
Stencel will once again play football for Clay this fall. He plans to earn a starting spot at defensive end when practices begin on Friday. He said he plans on wrestling at least once a week during football season.
“You have two-hour practices during the [wrestling] season. Why waste it then in the summer?,” he said. “Why not keep wrestling? Why stop it? You don't want to forget anything. You want to keep going.”
Stencel, who started wrestling when he was 3, said he embraces the sport’s individuality.
“It's a single sport. It's all me and I don't have to worry about other people,” he said.
“I plan on wrestling in college and in the Olympics one day. I think I have all the right tools and I'm heading in the right direction. You can't take a break if you want to be the best. I'm trying to get ahead of everybody.”