Two bands of brotherhood have helped Minnesota build one of the nation's top-ranked programs.
Brotherhood in the figurative sense is seen in this close group of teammates who have created a support system and share the same goal: winning a national title.
Brotherhood in the literal sense is more striking as the team has four sets of two brothers -- including two pairs of identical twins -- on its roster.
"It's a more intimate brotherhood or camaraderie when you have brothers, because brothers look up to brothers," Gophers coach J Robinson said. "Brothers have been competing and mimicking each other for their whole life, competing for toys and competing for attention, but they also have the support system because each one wants to see the other do well."
Whether it's extra motivation or natural chemistry or just pure talent, it's all working. This brotherhood of Gophers is No. 2 in the nation with a 6-0 record after Thursday night's 21-19 victory against No. 18 Northwestern.
Minnesota has shown that where there is chemistry, there is also rivalry.
Chris Dardanes was born eight minutes after his brother, Nick. And those eight minutes have been enough to forge added competitive drive in Chris, now a prominent member of the "Y.B.C." -- the Younger Brothers Club.
After spending 23 years competing with his eight-minute-older and 8-pound-heavier identical twin, Chris has become a voice of support in the Y.B.C. for wrestlers who are always trying to keep up with an older brother. The two-time All-American is the first to remind the "O.B.C." that the younger set are better looking and better athletes.
"I take pride in the Younger Brothers Club. We usually hand out a questionnaire to the girls and fans in the crowd to find out who's better," Chris joked.Not a new thing
This sort of rivalry is what the Gophers coaching staff prefers. Brothers have been walking into the Gophers wrestling room for decades. The program has eight sets of All-American brothers, dating to the 1970s with Dan and Larry Zilverberg.
Senior Dylan Ness has Y.B.C. membership because he watched his older brother, Jayson, win the most recent NCAA title in the Gophers' longtime brother act in 2010. Dylan was the NCAA runner-up at 157 pounds last year.
The Dardanes brothers are the most recent set of All-Americans. Chris earned All-America honors in 2012 and 2013, and Nick in 2013. The seniors from Chicago are expecting another All-America campaign this season and hope to return the NCAA trophy to Minnesota.
"We're sick of losing," Nick said of the elusive national title. "This is it. This is the last year [for seniors] to get it done."
Nobody is pushing Chris and Nick harder than each other. Nick is in the 141-pound weight class, and Chris in 133 pounds. The pair's drive to outdo the other often escalates wrestling practice into a boxing match. Once the punches stop flying, they're best friends again, each said.
"We have a lot of brothers on the team, but we're all considered brothers," Nick Dardanes said. "I think that's why brothers come here ... It helps a lot to have a brother by your side for accountability with the lifestyle we live. My whole life we've been competing against each other, so the competition is even greater."
Sophomore Brandon Kingsley (157/165 pounds) is hoping he and older brother, Jordan (125-pound junior), can become a combo as accomplished as the Dardanes. The brothers from Apple Valley, Minnesota are playing backup roles early this season. Brandon does have three pins and two technical falls in his seven victories so far."Jordan and I are planning to show we're as formidable as any other set of brothers," said Brandon, also known as "Kingsley 2" among teammates. "But we all love each other. It's easy for us to separate what happens in the wrestling room from what's outside the wrestling room."
Sophomore Brett Pfarr (184 pounds) and his freshman brother, Chris (197 pounds), were standouts at Le Sueur-Henderson High School, and Brett is 13-3 this a season. He is thankful to have his lifelong training partner Chris, pushing him to get better.
"It's definitely fun to have your brother on the team for the aspect of hanging out and training with each other," Brett said. "He's always getting better, so that pushes me, too."
Identical freshmen twins Faris and Tijani Karaborni, state champions from Cupertino, California, are the most recent addition to the brotherhood.
The Gophers hope these special bonds will help claim the program's first NCAA team national championship since 2007.
"The senior class is a very good group of guys," Brett Pfarr said. "They have had a lot of success, and they've brought us younger guys up and built us up with them. We're already close to begin with, so having all the brothers on the team makes it much more like a family."