Warriors Athlete of Week: Warriors’ Wagner makes winning look easy

Gabe Wagner won the Paul Bunyan Wrestling Tournament with ease.

Brainerd Warrior Gabe Wagner, top, spars with teammate Isaiah Jilson in the Brainerd High School wrestling room Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Gabe Wagner couldn’t pick a match or a certain moment, but a flip switched.

Brainerd Warriors head wrestling coach Mikkey White noticed it, but even he couldn’t pick an exact moment when it occurred last season.

Wagner transformed from a great wrestler into a great wrestler who believed he was a great wrestler. That confidence propelled him to a third-place finish at last year’s Class 3A State Individual Tournament.


Since then, Wagner has done nothing but become even more impressive.

“He just turned it on and was like a machine the last part of last season,” White said. “I realized it a long time ago. When I saw him when he was young I knew this kid could be the real deal. I don’t know when he thought it.

“He’s been successful always. Maybe not to the level of getting third place at state, but he’s always had some level of success. I don’t know what he’ll say, but it sure seemed like toward the end of last year something happened. There was a switch that happened.

“It’s really felt like that has rolled right into this season. You can see it. He’s on a mission and it’s pretty apparent.”

At the Paul Bunyan Wrestling Tournament, which concluded Saturday, Dec. 11, Wanger’s four combined matches didn’t add up to a full-length match. He opened with a bye and then pinned Staples-Motley’s Blake Nelson in 1:13.

“Because of that match, I know the things I can improve on and get better at. It gave me something to motivate myself to work even harder so it doesn’t happen again.”

— Gabe Wagner

In the semifinals, Sartell’s Ashton Lipinski lasted 43 seconds. Lipinski is ranked No. 9 in Class 3A at 152 pounds.

“Why not?” White said when asked why Wagner’s matches were so quick. “A lot of times in these tournaments, when you’re seeded so high you know you’re going to start against lower-seeded opponents. If you can get off the mat and save your energy that’s a good thing. We just didn’t expect that to happen throughout the whole tournament.”


Wrestling: Warriors 2nd in 54th Paul Bunyan Tournament

Wagner found his toughest competition in the finals where he pinned Frazee’s Jake Nagel in 1:51. Nagel is ranked No. 10 in Class 1A.

“I just went out there and did my thing,” Wagner said. “I wrestled and did the best I could. I didn’t have any special game plan for any of these guys. I watched some of their previous matches and saw what they do so I knew what to expect when I wrestled them.”

The senior opened the season with a second-place showing at the Wadena-Deer Creek Invite. Once again he started with a bye before pinning Chance Abraham of Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus in 3:54.

In his championship match, Wagner fell to Thief River Falls’ Brady Kasprick 3-2. Kasprick is ranked No. 2 in Class 2A at 145 pounds.

Wrestling: Road Crew win in Wadena, Warriors 4th

“He’s just a good wrestler,” White said. “He’s a defending state champ and he’s just hard to score on. It was just two good wrestlers going at it and the Thief River Falls kid came out on top that day.”

Despite the loss, Wagner was pleased to have that match early in the season.


“That will be super beneficial because now I know what I need to work on,” Wagner said. “Because of that match, I know the things I can improve on and get better at. It gave me something to motivate myself to work even harder so it doesn’t happen again.”

In last year’s Class 3A State Individual Tournament, Wagner scored a major decision before falling to the eventual state champion Nick Novak in the semifinals.

That dropped Wagner into the third-place match where he scored a 5-3 decision over Pedro Valazquez. Wagner finished with a 37-5 record.

Class 3A Wrestling: Warriors Wagner lands in third, Nagel runner up again

“Last year was super important because I was able to see where I was at,” Wagner said. “I was able to see what I had to do more of in order to get better.”

Wagner believes his riding has improved, but he said his feet have also gotten better. He understands there is room for even more improvement while on his feet. He’s working toward that and it’s that work ethic along with being a senior captain that makes Wagner a strong presence in the Warrior practice room.

“He’s been a leader in some fashion since the day we’ve had him in our room,” White said. “He’s been our hardest worker every year since the day we’ve had him. Even before he was a vocal leader, he’s been a leader by his actions. Now he’s both. Now he’s the hardest worker and he’s pushing other guys vocally as well. He’s a guy who is always doing the right thing. He’s responsible. He’s always there. He’s dependable and he’s an all-around good kid and a good wrestler.”

Wrestling: Warriors looking for more state success

Wagner takes pride in his leadership. He understands his role and how it can affect his younger teammates. His ultimate goal is to make Brainerd wrestling into a powerhouse. He said that’s one thing he hasn’t experienced in his years in the Warrior wrestling room. He would like nothing more than to help his team become a contender.

“That would be awesome,” Wagner said. “I’ve wanted to do that for many years; have a good team that is really close to making it to state or even going to state. That’s never happened since I’ve been here. That would be so awesome to have the whole team instead of just two or three people going to state.”

Wrestling: Warriors Wagner named MVP

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 855-5856 or Follow on Twitter at

Other notable performances

Easton Dircks, wrestling, won the 113-pound weight class at the Paul Bunyan Invite.

Lily Schaeffer, girls Nordic skiing, won the 5-Kilometer freestyle at the Bemidji Invite and was the individual champion at the Detroit Mountain Invite.

Myah Nelson, girls basketball, finished with 18 points, six rebounds and four steals against Sauk Rapids.

Max Roby, boys hockey, scored two goals against Northern Lakes and another against St. Cloud.

Mason Kuepers, boys swimming and diving, won the 100-yard butterfly and 200 individual medley and was part of a winning relay against Bemidji.

Cade Rosenwald, boys swimming, won the 50- and 100-yard freestyles and was part of a winning relay.

Kami Peterson, gymnastics, won the all-around title with a 34.025 against Sartell.

Brenna Deason, gymnastics, won the vault with a 9.35 against Sartell.

Lauren Castle, gymnastics, won the floor exercise with a 9.0 against Sartell.

Breya Sawyer, girls hockey, collected 13 saves for a shutout against St. Cloud.

Gabe Wagner

Gabe Wagner

Sport: Wrestling

Position: 152 pounds

Year: Senior

Age: 18

Height: 5-foot-10

Career highlight: Finishing third at last year’s state tournament

Other sports: Track and field, football

Grade-point average: 4.0

Favorite class: Math

Favorite food: French toast

Favorite movie: “Legends of the Fall”

Favorite website or app: Snapchat

Future plans: Attend college and hopefully wrestle

Parents: Marty and Christa

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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