Chippewa wrestlers ready to build from last season's success

Oregon, Ohio redshirt junior Matt Stencel grapples with MSU’s Christian Rebottaro Friday, Feb. 21, 2020 in McGuirk Arena.

Drew Hildebrandt and Matt Stencel remember the disappointment when the NCAA Wrestling Championships were canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hildebrandt, a senior from Granger, Indiana; and Stencel, a senior from Oregon, Ohio, had both qualified nationally at the 125-pound and 285-pound weight classes, respectively, and had a chance to make noise in the bracket.

Going into the 2021 season, which starts at 2 p.m. Sunday against Olivet College in McGuirk Arena, Hildebrandt said his mindset has changed after the frustration of last year's canceled tournament. 

"As time goes on, and having things taken away from you last year, you just start to be grateful -- that's how I approach this year and approach these challenges," Hildebrandt said. "I'm just grateful for every practice I get, I'm just happy to be there."

In all, six Chippewas -- seniors Dresden Simon and Landon Pelham along with junior Drew Marten and now-graduated Logan Parks with Hildebrandt and Stencel -- qualified for nationals last season. 

After tasting success last season, the Chippewas -- led by five seniors -- look to build on what they were able to achieve after a second-place showing at the Mid-American Conference Championships, where Stencel was named MAC Wrestler of the Year and coach Tom Borrelli was named MAC Coach of the Year for the 13th time.

"I'd like to see our three MAC champions from last year get an opportunity to wrestle at nationals and do very well," Borrelli said. "Drew and Matt are at a point where they need to be thinking about going to the NCAA finals and winning national championships and Dresden is very capable of being in the top three or four in the country, even making the NCAA finals. 

"Those guys have high expectations for themselves."

Who to watch for

When the Chippewas returned to training in September, Hildebrandt said the demeanor in the practice room has been intense and the young guys are making the most of their opportunity by staying aggressive in practice.

"It's good, them getting to wrestle with an experienced group, they learn a lot, they learn how to compete at the college level, how to think," Hildebrandt said. "It's not just physical, they learn a lot and it really helps the team."

After having just one senior each of the last two seasons, the Chippewas will have plenty of experience as they have five seniors on the roster to lead the way. Behind the seniors, there are six juniors, led by Brock Bergelin, Jake Lowell and Marten.

Borrelli said Pelham is another guy to keep an eye on this season. Even after qualifying for nationals last year, Borrelli said he has seen more improvement from the Tecumseh senior. 

"I would've liked to see him in the national tournament," Borrelli said. "Any time you go to nationals, regardless if you win matches or not, it gives you a lot of confidence. You realize that, 'Hey, those guys aren't that much better than me.'"

Of course, Hildebrandt and Stencel are the two anchors in the Chippewa lineup. Borrelli said the two seniors give the rest of the team confidence by going out and doing what they do best -- win. 

"We have bookends to each dual meet," Borrelli said. " ... They're the guys that get it started for us right and finish it right."

New challenges

One of the many challenges the Chippewas are facing amid the pandemic is as simple as not having all of their guys around for practice. To limit exposure, guys who do not typically crack the starting lineup might not practice. 

"We have a select group of guys that are getting tested with us six times a week," Stencel said. "We don't have as many fresh guys in the room for different looks in practice."

Having five seniors leading the team through the challenges brought up by COVID-19 is helpful to the rest of the guys and the coaching staff, even when practice seems stale after a while.

"It's hard to stay motivated," Borrelli said. "You come to practice everyday and you're not looking forward to a competition at the end of the week."

Now, the Chippewas will have the opportunity to compete when the Comets come to town. For the opportunity, Stencel is thankful.

"I'm excited right now that they're giving us an opportunity to practice, they're paying for us to be tested, it's a really good thing they're doing for us," Stencel said. "It's got me excited for this year, it's the longest I haven't competed. ... The season is going to go by quick."


The 2021 schedule features 12 dual matches and no tournaments until the postseason. 

Some duals will serve as part of a tri or a quad at one site. The Chippewas will host one tri against MAC foes Ohio and George Mason on Jan. 31 in McGuirk Arena. 

Here is the schedule for the 2021 season for the Chippewa wrestlers:

Jan. 8 at Missouri*
Jan. 8 vs. Wyoming (at Missouri)
Jan. 23 at Clarion*
Jan. 23 vs. Kent State* (at Clarion)
Jan. 23 vs. SIU Edwardsville* (at Clarion)
Jan. 31 OHIO*
Feb. 7 at Buffalo*
Feb. 13 at Northern Iowa
Feb. 13 at Iowa State (at Northern Iowa)
Feb. 27-28 at MAC Championships (at Rider)
March 18-20 at NCAA Championships (St. Louis, Missouri)