NIWOT — The name Stager is closely associated with Niwot High School wrestling for good reason. It has been the most prominent surname in the Cougars lineup since the turn of the century and sits atop many of the school’s all-time record lists.
Among the most decorated wrestlers in school history, 2012 graduate Nick Stager breathed, bled and was Niwot wrestling for four years. Before Nick, there was Luke Stager. Each Stager appears with more promise than the last.
Now, current Cougars freshman Tommy Stager has arrived to carry on the family name. He’s also determined to carve out a piece of Niwot lore he won’t have to share with is brothers.
“Theirs are pretty big shoes to fill,” Tommy Stager said. “My plan is to beat all of Nick’s records and to be the better wrestler than Nick, wouldn’t that be great.”
Nick Stager’s 134 career wins stands as the best total in Niwot High School history. He also holds the school’s career takedowns record with 325, as well as the single season school records in wins (43), pins (24) and takedowns (113).
Tommy Stager said he wants them, all of them. But he understands the truth — that it took Nick Stager building on Luke Stager’s knowledge and experience to set those records. And he likely will need some help from both of his older brothers to break them.
Good thing he’s getting it.
“Nick has given me quite a bit of advice. He watches the videos of my matches and gives me pointers on things like hand positioning and technique,” Tommy Stager said. “Luke helps me with making weight, which is great because he’s been there and done all that. He also helps me a lot with mental toughness.”
His pedigree puts him ahead of the game, and Tommy Stager is off to a running start with the Cougars. He boasts a 10-6 freshman record and is currently ranked eighth in Class 4A at 113 pounds by Tim Yount’s On the Mat rankings.
Luke Stager was stubborn on the mat. Nick Stager was more technical and thought about every move he was going to do, sometimes having his whole match planned out before it began.
In his ninth year coaching at Niwot, Scott Sanchez has now mentored all three Stager brothers. Sanchez said Tommy Stager shares some of Nick’s heady technique and Luke’s never-give-up attitude, but is a more fluid wrestler and is developing a style all his own.
“I don’t know if he’s wrestled longer than the other ones did but he’s come in with some pretty high level technique,” Sanchez said. “His mindset is always right and capable of winning. It’s hard to compare them because they’re all so different but he’s definitely a special kid.”
The one thing neither Luke nor Nick Stager could not do was reach the championship match at the state tournament. That is Tommy Stager’s ultimate goal and he thinks he’s got a fairly good chance right away this season after losing on a last-second takedown to Windsor’s second-ranked Josh Villa during the University of Northern Colorado tournament earlier this season.
Whatever his blossoming career holds, Tommy Stager is helping to drive a revival in the Niwot wrestling program. After a down period, the Cougars feel they could send five or six wrestlers to state this season.
Sanchez said the Cougars also boast a depth from seniors to freshmen that allows them to compete for dual victories and top finishes in tournament team competitions. Senior Joey Lambert, who is ranked 12th at 138 pounds, said that improved depth has the Cougars extra excited about hosting the Gary Daum Classic this weekend.
Formerly known as the Boulder Valley Invitational, the tournament was renamed last year in honor of Daum, a longtime Niwot coach who passed away in 2012.
“The Gary Daum is probably my favorite tournament,” Lambert said. “Gary Daum was a big influence for me, and many of us, growing up so we want to come out and make him proud and represent Niwot. I think we can definitely get top three but we’d love to try to go out there and take it as a team for Coach Daum.”
After sitting out the first half of the season with a knee injury, the Cougars’ top wrestler Clay Robinson will give Niwot a boost by returning to the mat for the Gary Daum. Tommy Stager, however, will be making his Gary Daum debut after watching his brother Nick Stager win the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler award in 2011 and 2012.
It’s Tommy Stager’s turn and the Gary Daum in the Cougars’ home gym could be as good a place as any to start carving his way into the Niwot High record books.
“It all just depends on who shows up but I feel like this is going to be my tournament to win,” Tommy Stager said.
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