Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Rivalries bring a new level of intensity to sports. Itâ€™s what drew thousands to watch Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier go toe-to-toe three times. Itâ€™s why baseball games between the Red Sox and the Yankees are always a little bit more heated, and the fans a little bit more passionate. Itâ€™s why college stadiums sell out anytime Ohio State and Michigan square off.
But rivalries do more than just keep sports interesting. In wrestling, having a rival can be one of the biggest determining factors in an individualâ€™s internal drive to success.
Some of Indianaâ€™s greatest wrestling rivals admit that without their counterpart, they would not have been as good as what they were.
Perhaps the top rivalry in Indiana wrestling history was that of Anderson Highlandâ€™s Camden Eppert and Warren Centralâ€™s Brandon Wright.
The two squared off a total of 12 times in high school. Three of those times came in the championship match of the state finals. Wright owned the overall better record between the two at 7-5, but Eppert won two of the three championship matches.
â€œThere were other people I knew I had to wrestle,â€ Eppert said. â€œBut in the back of my mind I always knew Brandon was going to be in my way. We were always on the opposite side of the bracket in regionals, semistate and state. Everyone wanted to see us collide.â€
Eppert, who was one grade ahead of Wright, defeated Wright 6-3 as a sophomore in 2007 to win the 103 pound class. Wright came back the next season and beat Eppert 5-2 to claim the 112 pound title.
The final showdown between the two ended up being the closest of them all.
The two met under the lights for the 119 pound championship in 2009. After three grueling periods the match went into overtime. Eventually Eppert escaped with a 3-2 victory.
â€œIâ€™m glad I faced him,â€ Eppert said. â€œWe developed something special. Even though I only faced one opponent in all three of the finals matches, I wouldnâ€™t take it back for anything.â€
Wright went on to dominate the 125 pound class the next season, after Eppert had graduated. He easily won the state title with a 9-1 victory.
â€œThat rivalry really grew me as a wrestler,â€ Wright said. â€œIt took both of us to a whole different level. I think it has to be the best rivalry in Indiana history.â€
The two were certainly not the best of friends in high school.
â€œIt was pretty cut throat,â€ Eppert said. â€œI donâ€™t think we hated each other, but when I shook his hand before a match we both knew we were going for blood.â€
Looking back, both wrestlers know that without each other, they may have never gotten as far as they did with the sport.
â€œWe had such intense matches,â€ Wright said. â€œHe made me focus more. Because of him I learned to prepare for matches. All of the hours I put into wrestling, he caused me to become strategic on the mat. Thatâ€™s where I really learned the most. I knew I couldnâ€™t just muscle him, I had to learn to be a better wrestler, mentally, when I went up against Camden.â€
Eppert went on to wrestle at Purdue. Wright is currently wrestling for Grand View where he is a returning NAIA national champion.
Wright knows Eppert was always the one who pushed him the most in wrestling. So when he was in Indianapolis a while back and needed a drill partner, Eppert was the one he called.
â€œI talk to him quite a bit now,â€ Eppert said. â€œHe will win another national championship this year. We stay in touch now and when he needs a drill partner, Iâ€™m there.â€
Another great Indiana rivalry was built in one season. In 2007 Munsterâ€™s Eric McGill and Hobartâ€™s Brennan Cosgrove met seven times at 140 pounds. The two were 3-3 against each other leading up to the championship match. McGill beat Cosgrove 6-5 in the final to win the series 4-3.
â€œOur rivalry was pretty heated,â€ McGill said. â€œWe both wanted the same thing, and we were both standing in each otherâ€™s way.â€
McGill won the first meeting between the two, a dual meet at Hobart. He scored a late takedown to earn the victory.
The second time the two squared off was at their county championship.
â€œThat was probably my favorite of all of them,â€ McGill said. â€œHe threw me in the first 30 seconds. I was down 5-0 and came all the way back and won 10-9. I had to have a bunch of takedowns at the end. I remember my last takedown came with under 20 seconds to go.â€
Cosgrove bounced back though. In their conference meet he defeated McGill 3-1. Cosgrove went on to beat McGill at the Hobart Invitational and regional. He was winning the matchup in semistate as well until an illegal slam gave McGill the disqualification victory.
â€œThat was the most dominating match of them all,â€ McGill said. â€œHe was beating me badly. It was definitely the most one-sided of all of our matches.â€
After losing three in a row, and then winning on a DQ, McGill began to question whether he could beat Cosgrove.
â€œThat year we were head and shoulders above everyone else in the state in our class,â€ McGill said. â€œI major, teched or pinned everyone but him. To have someone that good right here in my backyard that I had to compete against seven times, more than anything, made me a better wrestler.
â€œIt tested my resolve. It was the first time I had experienced a setback where I had lost to someone three times in a row. It was wearing on my mind wondering if I could turn it around. By semistate I started to think he was widening the gap. But our last match, I just told myself that whatever happens, happens. Iâ€™m going to live with the outcome. I wasnâ€™t too nervous or too fired up.â€
Cosgrove remembers wrestling McGill even in elementary school.
â€œWe were the same age group and we went to the same camps together,â€ Cosgrove said. â€œIn high school our matches were intense. It was awesome. I loved every one of them.â€
The two are now friends, although both admit they werenâ€™t at all during high school.
Cosgrove went on to wrestle for Purdue and McGill wrestled at Cornell.
â€œItâ€™s hard to explain what having that rival out there does for you,â€ Cosgrove said. â€œBut my experience with Eric back then was awesome. I hate losing, but when I would lose I walked off the mat knowing I wasnâ€™t going to lose the next one. We pushed each other to be better wrestlers.â€
Rivalries will always develop in wrestling. One of the newest rivalries is that between Fort Wayne Wayne junior Geoffrey Davis and Fort Wayne Northside junior Ben Streeter.
Last season Streeter wrestled Davis one time, and dominated to the tune of a 9-0 win.
Streeter and Davis have wrestled three times this season. They met in the Summit Athletic Conference finals, in regional and then again in semistate.
Davis turned things around at the SAC championship, winning the title.
â€œHonestly I came out at the SAC thinking I could just do what I did last time,â€ Streeter said. â€œI knew he was good competition, but I didnâ€™t realize how much he improved. I wasnâ€™t expecting him to beat me.â€
That defeat refocused Streeter. The next time the two wrestled came in the regional final where he won 12-11.
Davis bounced back to win semistate 9-4 after trailing 4-0.
â€œI honestly think wrestling him makes me better,â€ Davis said. â€œYou have to work twice as hard when you know there is a guy out there that can beat you.â€
Streeter echoes Davisâ€™ sentiments.
â€œIf I win or lose, I know heâ€™s out there working,â€ Streeter said. â€œHe isnâ€™t going to stop. You have to keep going too, because you know heâ€™s going to. He could be that roadblock that I have to learn to get around.â€
Both Streeter and Davis would like to face each other one more time this season. If so, it might mean they are wrestling under the lights against one another.
Perhaps the state championships this year will spawn even more Indiana rivalries.