'I want to be the guy that I wish I had as a coach': Matt Stencel's new role at CMU
After being a part of Central Michigan’s wrestling team for six seasons, the time had finally come for Matt Stencel to leave Mount Pleasant behind, but coach Tom Borelli had other plans.
“I was still around after the season was over in March,” Stencel said. “I kept sticking around and coach Borrelli wanted me to stay for this year, and I think that was my plan all along. I did want to coach college wrestling and it’s just nice that I get to stay home.”
Building his legacy
Stencel began wrestling in the heavyweight division as a freshman (2017-’18), but it was not until his sophomore year that he started becoming the Matt Stencel that the Chippewa faithfully know him as. In that year he qualified for the NCAA championship and earned his first Mid-American Conference title with a team-high 15 pins.
His success continued the following season, as he became the Chippewas 285-pound starter where he led the nation with 19 pins.
In his junior year (2019-20) Stencel became CMU’s first repeat All-American since 2013 and earned his first MAC Wrestler of the Year award after ending the season 30-4.
Continuing his success in the 2020-2021 season, Stencel recorded his 50th pin and finished the season 11-2.
In his last season as a Chippewa, Stencel ended his career on a high note. For the fifth year in a row, he was awarded as the MAC Champion and qualified for the NCAA tournament for the fifth time, while also earning wrestler of the year for the second time in his career.
Stencel ended his career with a record of 133-36, ranking him second in program wins and first in pins with 74.
Taking on a new role
Stencel had the chance to continue his wrestling career on the mat but also on the sidelines with multiple coaching opportunities.
“I had other offers to coach at other places and also had a couple of teams reach out to me for doing international competition” Stencel said. “It’s almost like ... pro wrestling. A lot of guys that have success in college move on and do like Olympic-style wrestling and I had those opportunities as well, but I always knew that I wanted to be a coach. That was my passion ... And I felt like I could be a really good coach and CMU has always felt like home to me.”
When the final decision to coach at CMU was made, it wasn’t a surprise to Borelli.
“I’m sure being in the program for five, six years had a lot to do with it,” Borrelli said. “But he wants to coach. He really wants to coach and he knows there’s an opportunity for him here to move into our staff because, you know, I’m not going to do this forever.”
Being a part of the Chippewas’ wrestling squad for over five years, Stencel created a bond with his teammates that he didn’t want to let go.
“I built a pretty good relationship with the guys on the team,” Stencel said. “I know some of them were pretty excited that I was sticking around. I mean, as much as I am their coach, we’re also really close, like, friendship-wise. Those guys feel like I can tell them anything and they could tell me anything.”
Becoming his former teammates’ coach was an adjustment that Stencel and the team had to get used to.
“I think it was a harder adjustment for them more than it was for me,” Stencel said. “I wouldn’t say it was a hard adjustment, but it was for sure unique in its ... own way just because, you know, I had to switch my focus from getting myself ready to what can I do to get them ready.”
Shifting from wrestler to coach isn’t an easy task, but Stencel feels his recent experience plays a big factor.
“I think it’s been an easy transition for me because I know what they’re going through,” Stencel said. “It’s so, like, recent in my mind that I know how they feel and whatnot.
“So, I think that helps because it’s a lot of like, communication...and they can trust me and then know that I just went through what they’re going through.”
Using his experience as a heavyweight, Stencel knows what it takes to build a strong career.
“We didn’t have a heavyweight coach,” Stencel said. “I want to be that guy who can work out with those big guys and really push them not just early on in their careers, but later on in their careers as well.”
Borelli also knows how much of an asset Stencel is for his heavyweight wrestlers and realizes the impact he has had on them so far this season.
“It’s really helped Bryan (Caves) case. You know, Bryan is a light heavyweight so Matt’s really helping him a lot,” Borelli said. “... Just having Matt to wrestle, you know, that’s really helped him, but it gives you confidence when you have someone who has the credentials he has to wrestle. I think that’s the biggest confidence builder there is for him.”
Borelli sees Stencel coming back as an honor to not only him but the program.
“I think that’s the ultimate compliment that the coaching staff can give me and that they want me to work here ... and learn from me but also they really want this program to continue and move forward.” Borelli said.
In his first season coaching, Stencel has noticed some things that he didn’t see as a wrestler.
“The growth that I saw the guys make from the beginning of the year till now, it’s something that you don’t really notice as an athlete,” Stencel said. “But when you’re coaching, (it’s) looking at the team as a whole. It’s much easier to notice how much better that they’re getting. And you see the improvement.”