By JEREMY HINES
Matt Lee and Eli Dickens are practice partners in the Evansville Mater Dei wrestling room. They are good friends, they are both juniors and they are both ranked No. 1 in their respective weight classes. The similarities don’t end there.
The two are soft spoken and humble. They have extremely similar voices, so much so that it’s hard to differentiate them if talking on the phone. They both have a 3.9 grade point average.
“On the wrestling mat they both like to push the pace,” Wildcat head coach Greg Schaefer said. “They are both students of the sport and they love fine tuning techniques. They are both competitive. They don’t like giving up anything. They just push each other and the other guys in the room.”
In fact, the two are so similar that coach Schaefer has a hard time finding any differences.
“I don’t really know how they are different,” Schaefer said. “There isn’t a lot of differences that I know of. There are a lot more similarities than differences.”
Lee also struggled to think of a difference.
“We are pretty similar,” Lee said. “We are really good friends and practice partners and our styles are similar.”
Dickens was the only one that could offer up some differences between the two.
“I guess the main thing that separates us is our setups,” Dickens said. “He is more of a high crotch guy and I’m more of a getting ankles and sweep singles kind of guy.”
Lee, who is the younger brother of Indiana legends Joe Lee and Nick Lee, is currently 30-0 on the season and holds the top ranking in the 145-pound class. He finished seventh the last two years in a row and is hoping to climb the ladder more this year.
“It was a good feeling to place at state,” Lee said. “But you can’t be truly satisfied unless you get first. It’s always good to be at the top. I was happy to place, but I wanted more. I was hungry for more. That pushed into this year and drives me.”
Being the younger brother of Nick (won state in 2015, now wrestles for Penn State) and Joe (won state in 2016 and 2017) hasn’t put a lot of pressure on Matt.
“People always talk about the pressure of being their younger brother,” Matt said. “I don’t feel that pressure. I talk to them and they give me advice. They help me as much as I allow them to. I keep them as a source of information. I don’t pry them to learn everything they know, but if I need help I can always go to them.”
Matt said watching Nick wrestle for Penn State makes him nervous.
“I’ve heard how it’s hard on parents to watch their kids wrestle sometime and watching Nick wrestle I know what they are going through now,” Matt said. “I didn’t understand that before. I get more nervous for Nick’s matches than I do for any of my own.”
Dickens has not placed in state so far, but he did qualify last year. This season he defeated former No. 1 ranked Elliott Rodgers 4-3 and that catapulted him to the top spot in the 152-pound weight class.
“It was pretty amazing to see that I was ranked No. 1,” Dickens said. “I try not to think of it too much, but it was exciting. It gave me more confidence and belief in my ability. I knew that I could beat anyone, but that just solidified that idea in my head.”
One big key for Dickens is that he doesn’t have to worry about his weight like he did last season. He feels that has helped him to be stronger and not focus so much on the weight aspect of the sport.
“I had a huge growth spurt last year where my body wanted to grow mid-season,” Dickens said. “This year I’m wrestling up three weight classes and I feel so much healthier.”
Matt is currently 30-0 on the season and Eli is 31-2, with both of his losses coming to out of state wrestlers.
Both Matt and Eli are hoping to wrestle in college, but neither have decided where they want to go.
Matt enjoys watching television, playing games and watching movies on weekends when he’s not wrestling.
“I’m a pretty average kid,” he said. “Probably my favorite thing to do is eat, but you can’t do a lot of that during the season. I just like to try to find fun in the small things. I’m just normal and I like hanging out with my friends.”
Eli enjoys going to his Bible study on Wednesday’s with his youth group.
“I feel that it really builds me spiritually and gets my mindset right,” he said. “I focus on God and the bigger picture.”
The two will compete Saturday in the Evansville North regional.
“I don’t want to sound boring,” Schaefer said. “But they are both just awesome kids that work really hard. I hope they are able to accomplish their goals.”