by Troy Misko
Kahron Nix has a bit of unfinished business he would like to take of care this season.
Nix, a senior at Coon Rapids, is a standout wrestler.
He’s a three-time state tournament qualifier as an individual and a two-time all-state performer after runner-up and third-place finishes during the class AAA individual tournament the past two seasons.
But a state title has eluded him.
He aims to change that this season. And if he can’t change that, he’ll settle for knowing that he closed his high school wrestling career — and perhaps his entire competitive wrestling career — by giving it his best effort.
“This year, my senior year, I plan to leave it all on the mat,” Nix says.
“Whether I win the state title or not, I just know I’m going to work as hard as I can so I have nothing to regret.”
Nix doesn’t regret much when it comes to his wrestling career. A four-year varsity wrestler for the Cardinals, he figures to finish among the top four or five grapplers (in total wins) in the program’s history.
He entered this season with a 95-18 career record and three consecutive trips to state (at 103 pounds in 2007, 119 pounds in 2008 and 125 pounds last year). But it’s his performance at state last season — or, more accurately, his second-round match at last year’s state tournament — that seems to stick with him most.
Nix lost that match.
And he did so almost resoundingly, falling 7-1 to Henry Sibley senior Tom Perillat.
It likely wasn’t the worst loss of Nix’s career. It might not have even been his worst loss at the state tournament.
Nix isn’t shy about recalling his first trip to the state tournament, as a freshman, when he owned a 7-1 lead in his first-round match against Osseo eighth-grader Adam Hammer, only to get caught in a headlock and get pinned.
But last year’s loss to Perillat perhaps bothers Nix more than any other because Nix wasn’t himself in the match.
“I don’t know if it was nerves or what,” recalled Nix, who defeated Hammer 12-5 in the opening round.
“My coach and I had a conversation after the first couple of rounds because he saw how I was wrestling. What he told me was to enjoy myself.
“That’s what I really forgot the first couple of rounds. I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was wrestling very tight. I was getting tired quickly because nerves are just bad. When I started to enjoy myself in the tournament that was when I started wrestling like myself.”
Nix, who admittedly always experiences butterflies before matches, rebounded nicely from the loss. He returned to his usual form and won his next four matches in convincing fashion — 11-3, 9-4, 13-1 and 6-1, respectively — to earn his third-place state tournament medal.
But Nix wanted more.
Nix wanted to be in the final match. He thought he should’ve been in that final match, if not for his not-quite-himself performance against Perillat.
“I did not go as far as I intended,” he said. “I took third, but the first couple of days I did not feel well at all. I loved how I wrestled toward the end of the tournament. The third-place match, I loved how I wrestled. But those first two days, I felt I lost to someone I shouldn’t have.”
It cost Nix a chance to wrestle for the 125-pound AAA state title. He doesn’t want that to happen again. So he plans to wrestle a bit differently to ensure it doesn’t.
“I think intensity, intensity, intensity is what I need to work on,” he said. “Last year in the state tournament, in the first couple of days, I was wrestling kind of tight. When I relaxed and started going after people, I started dominating. I feel that was a key — the intensity.”
And so it could be this season. After all, Nix seemingly has all the tools necessary to vie for or win a state title.
“Technically, he’s our best wrestler,” Coon Rapids coach Bob Adams stated. “Without a doubt he’s our toughest guy.
“He’s a smart wrestler. He’s also strong and he’s extremely quick. He’s a gifted athlete. But his biggest asset is that he’s smart.
“He [Nix] knows the situation when he steps on the mat. And he has the ability to adjust during a match. If things are not going his way, he’s a smart enough kid where if he’s getting beaten in a certain situation, he’ll adjust his style of wrestling.
“He’ll maybe change his stance. He’ll lead with a different leg. He has the ability to adjust on the fly. Not many wrestlers are capable of doing that.
“A lot of wrestlers tend to be one-dimensional, wrestle a certain way and that’s the only way they wrestle, whereas Kahron has the ability to change it up right in the middle of the action.
“I’ve seen him do it numerous times. He’s just a smart, smart kid.”
Nix isn’t, however, immune to pressure. In fact, he believes pressure — both external and internal — probably was a factor in his loss at state last season. After getting to the 119-pound final the previous season, there was an expectation that he would get to another final as a junior.
“Last year I didn’t do as well, I think, because I did so well my sophomore year and I had all of that pressure,” he says. “I didn’t enjoy it as much, so I didn’t reach my full potential. This year, I’m just trying to focus on going out, performing my best and having fun.”
As much as getting back to state and competing for a title is important to him, Nix will try not to get too far ahead of himself. Instead, he will try to live in the moment as much as possible this season, knowing his wrestling career could end in March.
If it does, it would be by his choice. Adams says several colleges are interested in Nix’s wrestling abilities.
He has fielded inquiries from Division I, II and III programs curious about the possibility of Nix wrestling for them during his college years.
Nix, at this point, isn’t certain he wants to wrestle beyond high school. He’s a strong student who’s already taking college courses — 13 credits this semester, 13 next semester — and thinking about being a pre-law major after he’s officially done with high school. That’s a priority for him.
Well, he’s not exactly sure where that will fit in once he’s in college.
“Wrestling has been a great journey for my life,” he said. “It has taught me a lot of lessons. I enjoy the part that wrestling has played in my life. But that’s not at the top of the pyramid for me.”
He lists family and school ahead of wrestling. Even so, he hasn’t yet ruled out wrestling in college, wherever that might be, either. He expects to make a decision soon on where he’ll attend college and if indeed he will choose to continue wrestling.
“Wrestling will be a factor in my college choice,” he said. “It’s really a choice I have to make and I’ll make it soon. I have some choices if I do want to wrestle and I have some choices if I don’t want to wrestle.”
For now, though — for the most immediate future — he’s thinking about this season, specifically what might be ahead of him as a wrestler this week. He’s scheduled to join his teammates to participate in the prestigious 36-team, all-classes Minnesota Christmas Tournament in Rochester this weekend, when he’ll be faced with a level of competition that rivals what he could face at the state tournament.
Nix, who’s currently ranked as the state’s No. 3 130-pounder, finished fourth at 119 pounds in the tournament as a sophomore. He’s looking for even a better showing this time.
Regardless of how he finishes, the tournament should serve as a good barometer of where he’s at in the early portion of the season.
“I’m actually very excited for the Christmas Tournament,” Nix said. “I feel like I have improved as a wrestler. The Christmas tournament will let me see where I’m at.”
It could be the first of many obstacles Nix will have to surmount if he’s going to capture that elusive state title. And, if all goes well, it could help him in what might be the only area where he needs improvement.
“If there’s one area Kahron could improve on, it’s believing in himself to be a state champion,” Adams said. “He has the ability. I believe he could do it. There are a lot of people in the state of Minnesota that believe he can do it. But it doesn’t matter what we believe. What matters is what Kahron believes.
“You get in that state championship tournament, some of those matches are so tooth and nail that there’s a very fine line between winning and losing.
“Last year I remember he wrestled [that kid, Perillat] from Henry Sibley. It looked like he had a deer in the headlights look. He was maybe a little too nervous. He has to believe in himself when he gets to that state tournament. He has to believe that he is the one that can win the title and come home with that all important title of being the state champ.”
Furthermore, said Adams on Nix:
“He has what it takes. He just has to believe in himself.”
Nix expects to put himself in a position to be a state champion. But he won’t let failing to do so define his final prep season to the extent he allowed his disappointing third-place finish at state last year define his junior season.
“Where the disappointment came in last year was that I didn’t perform how I should have,” he said. “If this year I feel like I wrestled as hard as I could and I still lost, then it’s not going to be a disappointment at all.”