GODFREY — Qiant'e Wagner has been a force on the mat for the Alton Redbirds. Now the powerful wrestler will take his talents to Division II McKendree University in Lebanon.
Wagner signed a letter of intent to become a Bearcat on Wednesday at AHS. After finishing in the top 10 in wins all-time at Alton, Wagner will follow the program's all-time wins leader Wade Lowe to McKendree.
Lowe secured a national championship with the Bearcats at 133 pounds in 2011 when they still wrestled in NAIA. Wagner looked at Lowe's success when visiting McKendree and took a lot of pride in it.
“Wade comes around here (AHS) quite often and when he comes around he's like an extra coach,” Wagner said. “He always wrestles around with all the guys and makes sure we learn what we need to learn. He's a great practice partner and a good guy all around.
“When I went to (McKendree) I got to see all his accolades and trophies and that was really cool. He's a really good wrestler. He helped me get to where I was at state this year. He's one of my best practice partners and I'd love to follow in his footsteps when I get up there.”
But as much as Lowe's success helped steer Wagner toward McKendree, it was much more than that. It was just a love affair from the start.
“I like everything about it,” he said. “I like the campus and how everything is set up and I really like the coaches and all the teachers there, too. They gave me a little campus visit and showed me around and I really liked what they were providing for me out there.
“The wrestling coach out there (James Kisgen) seems to really care about his wrestlers.”
James Kisgen has been at McKendree for 12 years. Kisgen was named NAIA National Coach of the Year twice ('07-08, '10-11) and the transition to D-II has also gone well for him. In 2014-15, the Bearcats were seventh at the D-II National Championships at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis.
Alton head coach Eric Roberson knows the type of competitor on and off the mat the Bearcats are receiving in Wagner. He'll be sorely missed by the Redbirds.
“He always did what he was supposed to do,” Roberson said. “He was a very disciplined kid, popular with the students at school and his most endearing quality is he is so humble. He's just an unassuming, humble kid who led by example. He wasn't a vocal leader, but he was a leader we could point toward and say, 'That's how it's supposed to be done.' He's been great for us on and off the mat.”
On the mat is where he really made a name for himself. As a senior, Wagner posted a 43-5 mark and narrowly missed securing a medal at 160 pounds at state, losing the match prior to the medal round.
He showed what he was made of at the William “Red” Schmitt Holiday Tournament in Granite City this season. Clinging to a 2-1 lead in the 160-pound finals against defending Class 2A state champ Randy Meneweather of Washington, Wagner denied Meneweather an escape point by holding on for dear life and riding him out.
That win earned Wagner the Outstanding Wrestler for the tournament and showcased his immense strength on the mat.
“As far as wrestling wise he's so powerful and strong,” Roberson said. “I've wrestled all these guys in practice and when he ties up with you you feel it. He's a good rider, he's tough on his feet...but he's just physically strong. He was able to ride (Meneweather) out that whole third period. He was able to hold him down and that was a strong kid, too.”
Wagner would have loved to garner a medal at state before his prep career ended, but he can't complain about his time with the Redbirds. He knows he learned a lot that he can take on to the next level and he'll miss his time at AHS.
“Hopefully when everybody comes to the wrestling room they see my name on the board and see my pictures up and hopefully they see what this entire senior class left behind for Alton wrestling this year,” Wagner said. “I learned just about everything here. (Roberson) has really helped me improve from where I was. When I first got here I was fresh out of middle school, didn't have much of a technique going, so here is where I developed all my skills that I have.”
Wagner reminisced about how he started in wrestling during middle school and how it was on a whim that he even became involved in the sport.
“I started wrestling back in sixth grade and it was actually kind of a mishap,” he said. “I missed my school bus and just ended up staying for the wrestling practice and I've been doing it ever since.”
Missing that bus has made a lot of people happy, most of all Wagner who is now getting a college scholarship out of the sport he almost never competed in.
“That was probably the best mistake I've made in my life,” Wagner said laughing.
He looks to major in economics at McKendree with the intention of becoming a teacher and possibly a wrestling coach.