Lefever reflects on what it took to become four-time NCAA D-III national champion
By STEVE KRAH
Riley Lefever could win wrestling matches 1-0 or 2-0.
But whatâ€™s the fun it that?
On his way to a fourth national championship, the Wabash College senior was named NCAA Division IIIâ€™s most dominant wrestler by averaging 5.79 points per match during the 2016-17.
To punctuate his fourth crown, he scored a pin in the 197-pound finals to help the Little Giants place third in the team standings. Lefever left the meet in LaCrosse, Wis., with the National Wrestling Coaches Association Most Outstanding Wrestler of the Meet Award.
â€œI like to push the pace,â€ Riley said. â€œOnce you wear them down, itâ€™s going to be easier to get to the legs.
â€œThatâ€™s the way I approach wrestling, wear them down, push the pace and score a lot of points.â€
Riley often finishes in a decisive way.
â€œHeâ€™s got a lot of horsepower,â€ Wabash head coach Brian Anderson said. â€œHeâ€™s big with cradles, bundling them up.â€
Lefever, who was an IHSAA state runner-up at 170 for Carroll High School (Fort Wayne) as a senior in 2013, became the first national championship in Wabash history as a freshman (Chris Healey placed second for the Little Giants in 2005) and went on to go 129-0 against D-III competition during his collegiate career while joining Augsburg's Marcus LeVesseur (2003, 2004, 2005, 2007) as the divisionâ€™s only four-time champions.
Overall, Riley was 158-6 (38-0 as a freshman, 37-3 as a sophomore, 44-0 as a junior, 39-3 as a senior).
â€œHis aggressive style and his approach to never stop scoring, it is exhausting to his opponents,â€ Anderson said. â€œHe is a great example of wrestler who likes breaking people on the mat.â€
In putting away Ithaca College senior Carlos Toribio in 4:52, Lefever took his foe from his feet to his back â€” something heâ€™s done countless times in drills and matches.
After taking each of his first three titles â€” all at 184 â€” Lefever trained with a purpose during the summer and came back better for the intercollegiate season.
Competing against grapplers in higher divisions, Riley won the Iowa State University/Harold Nichols Open and placed second at the Eastern Michigan University Open at the beginning of his senior season.
For his last college go-round, Riley was bigger and was even tougher on his feet.
â€œI talked to Coach Anderson and wanted to do what is best for the team,â€ Riley said. â€œI knew I got a little bigger. I saw it as just another challenge, facing bigger guys and wearing them down.
â€œI want to move guys around, snap them to the mat and score.â€
As it had been at 184, getting those big guys off their feet was the focus.
â€œTakedowns, thatâ€™s where most matches are won,â€ Riley said. So, he worked on singles, doubles, ankle picks and more. His lunch break was often coupled with watching video of the sportâ€™s finest and how they execute moves.
â€œThe best wrestlers are moving all the time and finding those angles,â€ Riley said. â€œItâ€™s fun wrestling to watch.â€
As a Little Giants assistant, Reece Lefever got to watch Riley make history from the corner of the mat.
â€œIt was pretty awesome,â€ Reece said. â€œRiley likes to have fun and get after it. Winning 1-point matches isnâ€™t as fun as scoring a ton of points. Thatâ€™s what the fans like to see, too. He put on a show for people.â€
Kent and Nancy Lefeverâ€™s sons earned eight All-American honors on the mat for Wabash â€” four for for Riley, three for Reece and one for Conner (twin to Reece). In 2015, all three brothers were in the D-III national finals with Riley (184) and Conner (174) winning and Reece (157) placing second.
Reece was the first Little Giant to achieve All-American status three straight seasons.
Conner, a volunteer assistant at Wabash, says itâ€™s his little brotherâ€™s drive that takes him to the top of the podium.
â€œHe wants to get better,â€™ Conner said. â€œHeâ€™s not satisfied with just winning. He wants to dominate.â€
Reece and Conner sparred with Riley a couple times a week during his tournament run. A few years ago, there was a chance of taking little brother down once in awhile,
â€œI could hang with him,â€ Conner said. â€œSince he went up and weight class and gotten so much better, itâ€™s tough to keep up with him.â€
Conner has watched Riley consistently put it on opponents.
â€œRiley likes to lift the guys and slam them down hard,â€ Conner said. â€œAs a fan, itâ€™s fun to watch the guys who can take anybody down at will.
â€œHe breaks them down mentally.â€
Anderson has watched the twins show the younger brother the way and seen him take the program to new heights.
â€œ(Conner and Reece) are perfect examples of how you need to live your life, stay on the tracks with your training and always do one more thing in pursuit of a national title,â€ Anderson said. â€œConner attained it and Reece just missed it.
â€œThe whole Lefever family and guys on those teams, these are the groups that took it up a notch and believe they were good enough to challenge for national trophies.â€
The bar has been set higher in Crawfordsville and Conner knows where the credit lies.
â€œRiley changed the whole atmosphere of Wabash wrestling,â€ Conner said. â€œNobody believed anyone could win a championship.
â€œThatâ€™s how weâ€™ve been able to make that big improvement.â€
And to think his mat career almost ended before it really got started.
â€œI played soccer and planned on playing soccer instead of wrestling, but I was practically dragged to practice by my brothers, teammates,â€ Riley said. â€œMy parents made me go.â€
Riley, who placed sixth at the Carroll Sectional as a 125-pound freshman with an 11-18 record, counts his brothers as his biggest influence.
â€œI get to train with them everyday,â€ Riley said. â€œThey were studs when I was growing up. They pushed each other.
â€œI still work on technique with them and they are the main reason I came to Wabash.â€
Riley wrestled with Conner and Reece for three years at Carroll.
â€œThose are memories Iâ€™ll never forget,â€ Riley said.
The brothers are also products of the Roadrunner Wrestling Club. Besides the Lefevers, college All-Americans from that Garrett-based organization are Travis Barroquillo (three times) and Matt Hurtford (twice).
After thriving in the competitive atmosphere at Wabash, Riley intends to continue his mat career and Anderson will still be there to guide him.
â€œMy ultimate approach is that I will feed them as fast as they want to eat,â€ Anderson said. â€œYou have different levels of committed athletes in your program. Riley is one of the most elite. He is hungry for opportunities. Iâ€™ve made sure heâ€™s being challenged as much a humanly possible. That that will continue. I will work to help him.â€
Anderson sees a possible World University Games or U.S. Open appearance for Riley this summer and he could wind up at a Regional Training Center or the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
â€œHe definitely has the ability and the build where he can do it,â€ Reece said. â€œHe can get pushed by guys his size and at his level.â€
In May, Academic All-American Riley is scheduled to graduate from Wabash as an English major and History minor. He is scheduled to marry longtime girlfriend Madison in August.
When he hangs up his shoes, Riley said he plans to be a wrestling coach.