HERSHEY, Penn. -- Conner Lefever could barely bring himself to console his identical twin brother, Reece, after the latter lost in the 157-pound final, instead leaving the backstage area at the Giant Center and shedding a few tears before turning his focus to his own title quest about to take place at the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships.
Moments after winning his first title at 174, Conner stood near the curtain his younger brother, Riley, had just exited while the latter tried to win his second championship in as many seasons. While Reece watched intently, Conner did all he could to keep himself distracted.
"Watching my brothers is the most nerve-wracking thing," the senior said as Riley began his bout. "I'm so glad to be doing this interview so I don't want to watch."Some seven minutes later, the Lefever's enjoyed a mostly happy ending: Despite Reece's setback, his twin and his younger brother each captured gold as they became the first trio of brothers in NCAA history to earn All-American honors as Wabash placed a program-best third overall.
"It's a dream," said Reece, a senior and three-time All-American. "Ever since been in college it's been my goal to wrestle on this stage with my brothers. It's been amazing."
"It was a goal to win three, but two's not bad," said Riley, a sophomore and two-time champ at 184. "That was our goal, that was our dream. I'm on cloud nine right now."
The middle portion of the nationals became all about the Lefever brothers, starting when Reece came through the curtain for his 157-pound bout against Washington and Jefferson's Nick Carr while his brothers loosened up for their looming turns in the spotlight.
Night's like Saturday night always loomed as a possibility, perhaps even a probability, as the Lefevers grew up grappling in their basement. It all started in their adolescence when Reece and Conner regularly beat up on each other, then dominated Riley until the youngest of the trio grew bigger and became the best of the brothers. Eventually, the Lefevers sold their wrestling mat because, as Conner said with a chuckle, "We put too many holes in the wall."After seven minutes of seeking an opening, Reece fell short against the undefeated Carr. His 5-2 setback left him as a three-time All-American and improved upon his third-place showing on this stage 12 months ago, but denied a Lefever three-peat before a large and loud group of Wabash supporters.
"It's bittersweet," Reece said. "It sucks that I lost. When I went back, though, I changed my attitude and got them excited for their matches."
Nearly 10 minutes later, as Reese spoke, Riley stood in the tunnel and warmed up while watching parts of Conner's bout at 174 against No. 3 Zach Zotollo of TCNJ. Conner had barely finished shedding his tears about his identical twin's setback when he found himself down early. He trailed 4-2 entering the third period before a takedown with 28 seconds left helped him end his career atop the podium with a dramatic 5-4 victory.
"It's the most amazing thing in the world," said Conner, a Type 1 diabetic who needed to check his blood sugar twice between the semifinals and finals. "Other years I didn't believe I could do this. This year I believed it."
After a quick celebration, Conner came back through the curtain and exchanged a quick high-five with Riley before the latter took his title turn. Moments later, Conner returned and watched alongside Reece, his identical twin in most matters of resemblance except for the latter's unruly mane of curly hair compared to the former's buzzcut. The twins even shared similar hairstyles until last summer when Reece, with a chuckle, admitted to taking a razor to his twin's hair while he slept.
While Reece kept his stare of Riley's bout, Conner did all he could to avoid watching until Riley got an escape to pull within 3-2 against No. 7 Devin Peterson of Wartburg. Then Conner could not divert his focus -- cheering, screaming, exhorting his younger sibling to get a takedown that finally came with 36 seconds left in the third period.
"I didn't change my mindset at all," Riley said. "I just had to keep wrestling the full seven minutes."
Mere moments later, Riley repeated as 184-pound champion with a 5-3 victory thanks to an additional point for riding time, ensuring a celebration his brothers later Saturday night after the Lefevers made history together on Division III wrestling's biggest stage.