No. 4 Stencel looking to repeat All-American honors

Andy Sneddon

Oregon native Matt Stencel (Clay) made noise last season placing seventh at the NCAA wrestling championships.
The Central Michigan University redshirt junior wrestler is going into this year’s tournament with an even larger goal: winning the heavyweight national title. Stencel is a legitimate contender, as he is ranked fourth in the country in the 285 pound weight class.
 Stencel wrestled at Clay High School under Ralph Cubberly, the father of Central Michigan’s assistant coach Ryan Cubberly. Stencel was a two-time state champion and a one-time state runner-up, and he compiled a 184-18 career record at Clay.
At Central Michigan, Stencel is 25-4 with 14 falls and two weeks ago won his second Mid-American Conference championship. Stencel’s accomplishments will not go unnoticed. If he lands on the podium this year, Central Michigan wrestling will have its 48th All-American. Should he win the heavyweight title, CMU will have its second national champion. Of his four losses, three have come to second-ranked Mason Parris of Michigan and one came to third-ranked Tony Cassioppi of Michigan.
Opponents have learned they need to beware of an angry Matt Stencel.
Stencel pinned Eastern Michigan's Gage Hutchison in the first period on Sunday to win the 285-pound title at the MAC championships at McGuirk Arena.
Stencel's victory, capping a 3-0 tournament run, highlighted the weekend for CMU, which finished second behind powerhouse Missouri in the eight-team field.
Stencel earned a spot in the NCAA championships which are in two weeks at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. He is one of four CMU wrestlers who punched their ticket for the nationals with their respective performances over the weekend.
Stencel finished off the second-seeded Hutchison in 1:10 one day after he upset top-seed and defending league champion Jake Gunning of Buffalo, 2-1, in overtime. Stencel, who was seeded fifth, opened the tournament with a pin in 1:07 of Kent State's Stephen Suglio, the No. 4 seed.
"I think he was kind upset they seeded him fifth because he was the highest-ranked guy coming into the tournament in the coaches poll," CMU coach Tom Borrelli said of Stencel. "He had already (pinned) Hutchison in our dual meet (with Eastern). I don't know how he got seeded fifth. I can't figure that out. I think it motivated him. I think it was a slap in the face to him."
Growing national reputation
For Stencel, it’s been all about a little patience, a little experience, a little cardio, and a lot of pins leading to a growing national reputation.
Stencel was known as a pinner when he joined the Central Michigan wrestling program three years ago out of Clay, where he set a state high school record with 39 consecutive pins during his senior season.
Stencel has become to Chippewa fans, and his opponents, what he was while prepping in Ohio. Stencel, who is tied with Colston DiBlasi of George Mason for the most pins of any wrestler in the nation, had one weekend in which he recorded, naturally, two wins, both by pin and has moved up to No. 9 from No. 14 nationally in The Open Mat rankings.
On Wednesday of that week, he was named the MAC Wrestler of the Week after first defeating Missouri's Zach Elam, a highly touted freshman who entered the bout ranked 16th nationally but ahead of Stencel – Elam was first, while Stencel, the defending MAC champion, was second – in the January MAC coaches rankings.
"It was nice to prove to everybody else that, hey, I'm here," Stencel said.
Stencel closed the weekend by pinning Colton McKiernan of Southern Illinois Edwardsville. Both pins came in the third period, a signal of how far Stencel has come since arriving at CMU.
Borrelli has continually stressed to Stencel that he must become accustomed to wrestling deep into matches. Stencel recorded nine falls in finishing 13-3 in his first year on campus, when he redshirted and wrestled in open tournaments. He had 15 falls in going 27-15 a year ago.
Combined, Stencel has 38 career falls, 32 of which have come in the first period. Getting to the third period or perhaps even going the distance against Stencel might be considered a moral victory for most of his opponents.
But getting there is also a major step for Stencel, who clearly has the makeup to carve out a legacy as one of the very best to come through the storied CMU wrestling program.
In order to leave that kind of a legacy, stamina is a must because when it comes to the NCAA Championships, pins are few and far between and most 285-pounders, the truly good ones, possess the physical build, the athleticism and the temperament of, say, a football defensive lineman.
"When the end of the year comes around and you're going to be wrestling those top-10 (ranked) guys and you really need to be able to wrestle all three periods," Stencel said. "I need to be able to wrestle in the third period like I do in the first period."
Which explains how he was able to remain patient and then struck in the third period against both Missouri's Elam and SIUE's McKiernan.
"I just stuck to my game plan and was really focused on me the whole week and what I can do and how I wrestle," Stencel said. "If I go out there and wrestle how I should, I beat those guys."
Stencel said the message that Borrelli has been preaching has taken hold.
"You're not necessarily wrestling bad just because you haven't pinned (an opponent) in the first period," Stencel said, adding that Borrelli's in match message is, "stay calm; just go wrestle."
Stencel's on-mat performance is reflective of a man in his third year of college and who is, quite frankly, making strides on all fronts, physical and emotional, almost daily.
"That's just growing and finding out what's going to make me the best wrestler that I can be," Stencel said. "And one of those things is getting in the best shape I can for the third period
"Nothing will change (because of rankings); just keep working hard. If I was No. 1, or I was 20th, it would all be the same: Just keep working hard every day to improve myself. My coaches and I know what I have to do for me to be as successful as I possibly can. Just going to stick to that. There's nothing that's going to put you over the top besides hard work."


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