Every practice was a struggle for Gabe Wagner last year.
And the Brainerd Warriors sophomore wrestler appreciated every moment.
As a freshman, Wagner practiced against one of four state-qualifying wrestlers Brainerd had around his weight class. The daily grind paid off this year for Wagner who enters the Section 8-3A Team Tournament with an eight-match winning streak, including the 145-pound title at Mound-Westonka.
“Iron sharpens Iron,” Warriors head coach Mikkey White said. “You look at all the great teams that have depth, those teams can have battles every single day. It’s those battles that make wrestlers better. So for Gabe to have those battles all year, having to work super hard every single day just to, not literally, but to stay alive in the practice room helped him. There is so much growth that happens with that, especially when they are young.
“They go in there and they get beat up and we have to keep reminding the kids that as bad as it feels, it’s the best thing that can happen to you. Then you go out and you wrestle kids that aren’t as good as your teammate and you beat them. The best thing to do is to lose in the practice room.”
Wagner was seeded No. 1 for the Leopold Haglund Invitational at Mound-Westonka Friday, Feb. 7. The sophomore opened with a 42-second pin followed by a 14-2 major decision in the semifinals.
“Being the No. 1 seed, I felt confident, but I wasn’t going to let anyone surprise me,” Wagner said. “I went into every match like I was wrestling against someone good.”
In the championship match, Wagner scored a 58-second pin for the title that helped the Warriors to fourth place in the team standings.
“Gabe has really turned his offense on,” White said. “He’s been able to score a little bit more. He’s so hard to score on and that’s always been a great asset for him. With that, he wasn’t always scoring that much from his feet. At least not with his initial shots. Now he’s starting to score a little bit more from his feet and that’s helping him out.”
In Brainerd’s 57-18 victory over Buffalo Tuesday, Feb. 4, Wagner posted a 4-3 decision over Ryan Scherber, Class 3A’s third-ranked 132-pounder.
“That was a tough, tough kid, but Gabe matched up with him perfectly,” White said. “He was able to shut that kid’s offense down and score when he needed to. That was a huge win for him. Yes, the kid bumped up a weight class, but he was a state runner-up last year (at 126 pounds). Even though that kid was a little bit lighter than him, to beat that caliber of a wrestler says a lot about Gabe.”
Wagner then pinned Aaron Higgins of Glenco-Silver Lake/Lester Prairie in Brainerd’s 36-33 win.
“My biggest improvement this year is takedowns,” Wagner said. “You need to move your hands and you need to move your feet. I’m really good at getting hand control and that usually can shut the other guy down if they want to score.”
The 5-0 week pushed Wagner’s record to 31-7 this season. Last year Wagner split time between the varsity and junior varsity and posted a 30-11 overall record. He scored 15 varsity wins as a freshman.
“I improved a lot last year because I got to wrestle against all those good kids,” Wagner said. “I think that it’s shown. And now I’ve had my spot in the lineup all year and I’m just doing what I can with it.”
In the Warriors 48-27 victory over Aitkin Jan. 31, Wagner pinned Cory Hill in 15 seconds. He pinned Ryan Kloeckl of Little Falls in 39 seconds and posted an 11-2 major decision over Becker’s Mason Doucette Jan. 28. Against Sauk Rapids’ Graham Doherty Jan. 24, he won with a 41-second pin.
“I’ve had some good matches and there have been other matches that I haven’t performed as well as I would have liked,” Wagner said. “I’d probably give myself an eight out of 10. I really don’t think about it. I just go out there and wrestle and do what I like to do and that’s wrestle. I’ve been wrestling for a long time.”
Wagner hasn’t lost since Jan. 21, when Moorhead’s Ryan Luthi got him with a 9-4 decision. Luthi is Class 3A’s sixth-ranked 145-pounder and likely Wagner’s top competition in the Section 8-3A Individual Tournament.
“I think Gabe’s in a good spot,” White said. “He’s got a good weight class at 145 pounds and that’s always a strong weight class. I’d love to see him down at the state tournament and Gabe’s a kid that if he’s on his game and his offense is going, he can shut good wrestlers down and not allow them to score. If he can score at the right times and come ahead at the end of the matches I don’t see why he couldn’t be down in St. Paul.”
Other notable performances
Mike Laber, boys hockey, finished with two goals and two assists against Sauk Rapids and a goal and an assist against Alexandria.
Eric Pohlkamp, boys hockey, finished with two goals and an assist against Sauk Rapids, two goals against Duluth East and an assist against Alexandria.
Connor Powers, boys basketball, finished with 22 points and six rebounds against Alexandria and 19 points and 11 rebounds against Willmar, 19 points against Fergus Falls and 24 points, seven rebounds and three assists against Wayzata.
Olivia Tautges, girls basketball, finished with 19 points against Monticello.
Cade Rosenwald, boys swimming and diving, won two individual events and was part of a winning relay at Central Lakes Conference Championship.
Tristan Dawson, boys swimming and diving, won the backstroke, was part of a winning relay and finished third in the butterfly to earn All-Central Lakes Conference honors in all three events at the CLC Championship.
Brenna Deason, gymnastics, tied for first on the floor event with a 9.475 in the Central Lakes Conference Championship.
Position: 145 pounds
Career highlight: Wrestling with the team
Other sports: Track and field, football
Grade-point average: 3.9
Favorite class: Math
Favorite food: Apples
Favorite movie: “Legends of the Fall”
Favorite website or app: YouTube
Favorite restaurant: Grizzly’s Wood-Fired Grill
Parents: Marty and Christa Wagner