It wasn’t exactly the way that Gabe Nagel envisioned capping out his senior year as a Little Falls wrestler.
First of all, it was not under the big and bright lights and the roar of an Excel Energy Center crowd. Second, the Little Falls record holder for most wins and most pins, fell for just the second time in three years, in the Class 3A Championship, Thursday, March 25.
Both of those losses, including 3-2 loss in the 2021 championship, were against Max McEnelly of Waconia and in state finals.
“I got another chance to compete for that championship, and it was a good experience, a good match,” Nagel said. “At the end of the day I knew it would come down to who got the takedown.”
“Obviously not how I wanted to finish, but I was glad that I was able to get another opportunity at it,” Nagel said.
“It’s crazy to think that Gabe had two losses in three years, and they were both to the same kid,” said Little Falls head coach Mike Hendrickson.
In the championship loss to McEnelly, Nagel employed a different and more aggressive strategy after losing in overtime a year ago.
“This year we talked about taking a few more chances and going down swinging so to say, and he did that,” Hendrickson said. “He had some opportunities, and he almost got behind him a couple of times, and he kind of slipped out.”
“It was a well-fought match, and Gabe wrestled his heart out, but just fell short,” Hendrickson said.
Nagel nearly did not make the final, as he had to earn a gritty, 3-2 win over Stillwater’s Ryder Rogotzke.
“He had a very tough kid from Stillwater, and he was aware of him, and wrestled his older brother this summer,” Hendrickson said. “This kid was very dangerous, and so he was very cautious with him.”
“Getting that one point victory was what we needed to do, and obviously it would have been easier with a larger lead, so we just stayed away from his moves,” Hendrickson said.
“That was another match that I knew that whoever got that first takedown was probably going to win,” Nagel said. “He was a funky wrestler, strong wrestler, and I didn’t think it would be that close, but it was much closer than I thought.”
Apart from the disappointment of not capturing a second state title, Nagel said that the atmosphere was quite different in 2021.
“We couldn’t really watch the wrestling, and we just had to hang out in a different area until three matches before you wrestled,” Nagel said. “I think it didn’t really feel like a state tournament, and if that was your first experience of a state tournament, it didn’t feel all that exciting.”
“The competition was state-level, but it kind of was missing that excitement,” Nagel said.
Hendrickson echoed Nagel’s sentiment.
“We didn’t see any wrestling, except for when you were out there for that six minute match,” Hendrickson said. “That’s the fun part, because there an awful lot of good wrestlers and wrestling and we saw nothing.”
“It was not a good experience, but at least we were able to wrestle, and that’s what it’s all about,” Hendrickson said.