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Perham superstar: Phil Moenkedick

Moenkedick outlasted Ben Engelland of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point 2-1 in the title match. Photo courtesy Concordia Sports Information Office.1 / 2
Moenkedick ended his wrestling career as the two-time defending NCAA Division III national champion. Photo courtesy Concordia Sports Information Office.2 / 2

Perham's Phil Moenkedick recently became the first Concordia Cobber to win back-to-back wrestling national championships.

For Moenkedick, wrestling is a family tradition that dates back to his youth in Perham.

"My first wrestling memory outside of just rolling around with my brother and dad at home would be the Perham elementary tournament when my older brother, Kenny, was in kindergarten," Moenkedick said. "My dad let me wrestle at the tournament, as well, and I finished second, losing to Kenny in the finals."

The kindergarten tournament was the beginning of Moenkedick's career through high school, in a town with a vast history of winning traditions.

"I think it is pretty cool. It shows tremendous dedication from the coaches, parents, and the community as a whole. It means that Perham has the right people in the right positions and they are doing an awesome job."

As Moenkedick advanced to the college ranks winning his first national title the pressure mounted on a repeat performance. Notching is second consecutive championship brought about much relief.

"I felt a lot of pressure going in to the National Tournament. The idea of going into my last wrestling match after doing it for so long, about 18 years, was hard for me. I thought a lot about how much time I had put into the sport and that anything short of a National Title would have been very disappointing. It all worked out but before that last match I was kind of a wreck so the biggest thing that comes to mind is the relief I felt."

Expectations from coaches, fans, but most himself all year were centered solely on winning another national title, a daunting task for any wrestler.

"At times, it was a lot to handle and the pressure built up but during the year I was able to calm myself down and relax when it got to be a a lot. I wouldn't say that it is par for the course at all but it was an expectation that I had, and I think many others had of me. My coaches were awesome at motivating me and helping me focus on what I needed to do during the year. It would have been impossible without their help. Although the pressure was there it was also very exciting to be in that situation."

Head Coach Clay Nagel has nothing but praise for the outgoing senior.

"His leadership and work ethic are immeasurable," Nagel said. "To get the quality of a person not just as an athlete, as far as recruiting, you can hardly put a value on it."

Wrestling, in general, is an intense sport. Even for spectators, the inner tension and drama play out on the mat for more than just participants--the bigger the match the higher the intensity.

"I would say, during a match, it is definitely more nerve wracking for the spectator, especially if it is someone who is invested in the person competing," Moenkedick said. "When the actual match in going on the nerves really go away for me. You just have to let yourself go and compete as hard as you possibly can and whatever happens happens. When you are just sitting there watching it, it is much more tense."

Moenkedick has seen that pressure multiply as he has progressed to bigger stages.

"The intensity difference from high school to college is pretty drastic. There really is no comparison. The training you do in college is more intense, it's harder, your practice partners push you more, the competition is better, you put way more time into the sport. The list could go on, but there is definitely a huge intensity difference between the two levels."

Moenkedick has obviously mastered that difference to the tune of a career record of 134-10. There is a key to winning at that level of proficiency.

"It's being able to find something to keep you motivated and focused every day. For me, it has a lot to do with the fact that I absolutely hate losing. I don't accept losing very well and that is what motivated me to stay focused. Also, the rewarding feeling you get from winning in wrestling is different than any other. That feeling that you get from winning a big match is definitely a very strong motivator, as well."

Concordia College's wrestling program has obviously become a better program since Moenkedick arrived, along with Head Coach Clay Nagel, his son Matt and Perham native Justin Berns, along with a host of others following in their path of success.

"The intensity has gone up quite a bit, especially since Matt got here. He brought a whole new level to our training. Also, the level of talent and potential of the wrestlers in our room has risen since I have been here. I think that is because we have a reputation now and guys want to wrestle for Concordia. I don't think they really had that five or six years ago."

Much of that success rides on the leadership of both the Nagels.

Clay Nagel's 17-year history at Frazee High School is nothing short of incredible in continuing the Hornets tradition of winning.

The Hornets won three Minnesota state championships and 13 section titles. He was named the Minnesota State High School Class "A" Coach of the Year in 1999. He has also been named the Region Coach of the Year seven times and the Sub-Section Coach of the Year on six different occasions. In 1999 he was elected the President of the Minnesota Wrestling Coaches Association.

Since moving on to Concordia, Nagel's impact has brought Cobber wrestling straight to the national stage.

"Both Clay and Matt have had a tremendous influence on me. They are both so motivational in their own ways," Moenkedick said. "Clay is very good at getting you to think about doing your best and competing as hard as you can. He is very good at putting things into perspective and relating wrestling to life. He is definitely someone that I have a tremendous amount of respect for and I look up to him a ton."

Matt Nagel has played a different role with Moenkedick, especially when it comes to training.

"Matt is motivational in how intense and competitive he is. He is able to push you to another level. There is just something about him that drives you to wrestle harder than you normally would. It's very hard to explain but it's very effective. I also have a ton of respect for Matt and feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity that I have had with him in the program."

"It shows that if you want to get to the next level, become and All-American and win a national championship, Concordia is the place to come and Phil proved you can reach the highest level," Clay Nagel said.

The Nagel motivation is not all aggression and intensity, especially during matches.

(Clay) is pretty funny without really trying to be," Moenkedick said. "He gets confused at what he is trying to say sometimes and the way it comes out sometimes is pretty entertaining. The way he relates wrestling to farming, among other things, is pretty comical, as well."

Moenkedick went to Concordia and would up wrestling alongside former Yellowjacket teammate Justin Berns.

According to Moenkedick there are two sides to Berns: the wrestling and non-wrestling sides.

"He is the most dedicated person I have ever met," he said. "Everything he has accomplished has been the result of countless hours of hard work. I have not seen anybody train harder than he does. He is unbelievably competitive and motivated."

Like the rest of the individuals in this story, Berns also has a funny side.

"He is arguably the most hilarious person I know," Moenkedick said. "Anytime he is around it is going to be a good time. There is nobody that is as unpredictable as he is."

The relationship and shared success of the duo has brought them closer together since their days on Jacket mats.

"He has become a very close friend of mine since we came to college. We think alike in a lot of different ways and when there is an argument/conflict among the team (mostly friendly) I would say that when Berns and I are on the same side, we have never lost. I have a lot respect and admiration for what he has done and how hard he works."

Both Moenkedick and Berns continued a winning tradition that stems from their days in Perham.

"I think that my experience in Perham gave me a good foundation," Moenkedick said. "I learned a lot of basic things there that helped me. One of the most important things was to work hard, be competitive, and to expect a lot out of myself. Some of this I got from Perham wrestling but I also got a lot of it from home, especially from my brother and dad. They were both awesome influences on my wrestling career along with (Robb) Moser and the Perham coaching staff."

Moenkedick is wrapping his studies up at Concordia and looking forward to the future.

"Right now I am student teaching and will graduate this spring with a Physical Education and Health degree. I plan on staying involved in wrestling as a coach and teaching. I have a few preferences of where I would like to end up but I guess we will see how things work out."

But as far as competing, wrestling may be in the books for Moenkedick.

"As of right now, I don't have any plans of wrestling anymore. Who knows if that changes once I am away from it for a while? I am definitely going to stay involved as a coach though. I love the sport and could not imagine not having it a part of my life. I have done a few camps in the summers and done some other coaching and enjoy it very much."

Wrestling has had a profound impact on Moenkedick as a person.

"There is not much of me that wrestling hasn't had an influence on. It has taught me a lot about things like dedication, discipline and hard work. Some of the most important people in my life are those that have been involved in my wrestling career. My best friends are people I have wrestled with.

When you go through something like this together you develop a bond that is pretty special. It has taught me that the more work you put into something, the more rewarding it is; that you have to create opportunities for yourself and you can't expect things to just be given to you. There are many more things that I could say but these are some of the ones that I feel are most important."

Moenkedick's experiences and incredible successes will definitely be benefit to whichever program he coaches at, more so, the ability to share those experiences and advice from a national champion to young men just beginning their wrestling careers.

"It goes by extremely fast. When you are done you are going to look back and say, man, I wish I would have _________. So don't waste an opportunity to get better. Wrestle as much as you possibly can. Wrestle in the spring and summer. Go to camps, lift weights, do all the extra little things that other people don't do. Also, don't turn wrestling into something that is miserable. Enjoy the sport, enjoy the hard work, have fun with it. When it is all said and done you aren't going to say I worked too hard, you are always going to think I could have done more, so do as much as you can so that you can look back when you are done and be proud of what you did."

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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