After one season at his dream school, Nick Wanzek wasn’t sure he wanted to wrestle anymore.
Wanzek, then a redshirt freshman, had been forced to drop down a weight class to 165 pounds — and the transition wasn’t going well.
“I was young; I didn’t cut my weight very well,” he said. “I starved myself, dehydrated myself; eventually I broke … that was probably one of my lowest seasons.”
An Inver Grove Heights native, Wanzek was a three-time state champion at powerhouse Simley High School before deciding to wrestle for the Gophers.
His Gophers career got off to a blazing start during his first two dual matches as he defeated two ranked wrestlers in succession.
It was clear Wanzek had the talent to compete at the collegiate level, but as the season wore on, the weight class change took more of a toll, said Head Assistant Coach Luke Becker.
“When you’re a young kid, you don’t necessarily understand all the little things that it takes [to make weight],” he said. “I think the weight kind of wore down on him a little bit.”
Wanzek finished the season 16-12 — respectable, but a far cry from the promise he showed early in the season. Something needed to change.
Luckily, four-time All-American Logan Storley graduated, which opened up a spot at 174 pounds. Wanzek jumped at the opportunity in his second season.
“I wanted to rediscover my passion for the sport,” he said. “Once I got up [to 174] it was a lot better- a lot more fun. I got a lot more out of practice.”
It showed on the mat. Wanzek looked like a different wrestler than the season before. Victories in his final four dual matches —including an upset of then No. 4 Zac Brunson of Illinois —catapulted him into the NCAA tournament.
“I think it was a big step for him,” Becker said. “Being on the big stage [in the NCAA’s], I think that will definitely help him out this year.”
Now a redshirt junior, Wanzek is back at 165 pounds — this time with a level of comfortability.
He is ranked No. 15 in the nation, and his four victories over ranked opponents are the most of his career.
Wanzek didn’t hesitate to acknowledge the benefits of a challenging first year after seeing the high points of success.
“I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “I look back now at my freshman year and think ‘Wow, I could have been much more successful.’”
Wanzek’s tremendous efforts in three weight class jumps have not gone unnoticed by teammates.
“[Wanzek] works hard; he does everything right,” said Gophers captain Michael Kroells. “He’s not a guy who’s going to yell or anything like that.”
As one of the Gophers’ older wrestlers, Wanzek has taken on a leadership role within the team and believes his experience can help younger wrestlers faced with similar challenges.
“Being young, I was on the team that was ranked number one in the nation; I learned a lot [from that team],” he said. “I’ve been around the block a couple times and now I want to share my experiences with the guys below me.”