Brothers in arms for wrestling Lesters
Matt and Nick Lester have fought over just about everything.
They may be twin brothers, but the Eureka (Mo.) seniors find plenty of reasons to clash. You name it, and chances are they have gotten into a scrape over it. Video games, the remote control, sharing clothes -- all grounds for throwing down.
So when they both claimed Missouri state wrestling championships last winter, with Nick winning the title at 135 pounds and Matt winning at 140, it wasn't much of a surprise. After all, they had been engaging in hand-to-hand combat for the better part of 16 years.
"Me and Matt fight all the time," says Nick. "We've always been that way, always very competitive."
The boys found a healthy outlet for their sibling rivalry when their father enrolled them in a wrestling program at age 6. "Beating up on someone else," explains Nick, "that was the hook for us."
Now the Oklahoma-bound Lester twins are counted among the nation's top wrestlers, with Matt ranked No. 2 in the country at 145 pounds by Wrestling USA Magazine and Nick ranked No. 5 at 140 pounds. And it all stems from that brotherly competitive drive.
They took to wrestling immediately, reveling in the physical and technical aspects of the sport even as kids. Nick was a natural at takedowns, while Matt was a quick study in mat work, learning to maneuver his opponents to the ground.
It didn't take long for the boys to establish themselves as special talents. As they advanced through the youth ranks, the Lesters became recognized as two of the nation's most promising junior grapplers. Part of the reason for their quick ascension was the fact they had top-notch sparring partners: each other.
"Until high school, we were always in the same weight class," says Nick. "When we were in elementary school and middle school, we'd wrestle each other and always go back and forth. It was about .500, and when I lost, I'd be mad and try to fight him. We always pushed each other to be better wrestlers."
By the time they entered Eureka as freshmen, the Lesters were superstars in the wrestling world. They competed in national tournaments and worked out at the elite Purler Wrestling Academy, so Eureka coach Tim Yancey was convinced they'd be state title contenders right away.
Although they didn't win championships as freshmen, Nick went 48-1 and finished third at the state tournament, and Matt went 45-4 and finished fourth. Their not-so-unique appearances also made them a hit with spectators and opponents, who couldn't help but seek them out and ask the standard twin-related questions.
While Matt and Nick look alike ("People say Matt has a bigger head," according to Nick), they've never bothered to confirm whether they are identical twins. Watching them wrestle wouldn't give it away, either, as the two have developed completely different styles.
Nick is an aggressive wrestler, making the first move and constantly attacking his opponent. He relies on takedowns for most of his points, while Matt is a more conservative tactician.
"I'm more relaxed in there," says Matt. "I'm a quick thinker and I'm pretty good on my feet, and I try to capitalize when [my opponent] makes a mistake. Nick is a go-hard guy who's always going at his opponent."
The contrasting styles were probably born from competing against each other over the years, and their respective approaches have worked for them. Matt went 134-15 in his first three years at Eureka and Nick went 142-6, and they have both enjoyed success on the national stage. Matt won the NHSCA Junior National Championship in Virginia Beach, Va., last March, while Nick took second in his weight bracket.
The boys' personalities are as different as their wrestling styles, with Matt the more laid-back of the two. "Before his match at the state finals last year, Nick was pacing around, stalking, while Matt was just sitting in a chair, relaxing," says Yancey. "They both won, so the differences suit them perfectly."
While the boys used to get into fights as a matter of course, the rivalry has moved strictly to the gym in recent years. They use each other's accomplishments as fuel to get better, as neither wants to be outshined.
"We used to compete everywhere," says Matt, "but now it's about wrestling. I never want to lose to him and he never wants to lose to me. We're enemies on the mat and friends off the mat, and it will always be that way."
That respectful camaraderie was evident at the state finals last year, when they wrestled in back-to-back matches. Their public displays of support are usually muted, but they cheered each other on as they claimed their first state titles.
Nick went out first and won the 135-pound championship when a takedown forced his opponent to retire with an injury. Matt rooted from the sideline, then took the floor for the 140-pound match, and Nick stuck around to cheer his brother's 7-1 victory.
"I had just won, and I can remember watching his match," says Nick. "I was hoping he would win, too. It's OK if I beat him, but we don't like seeing anyone else beat us. If someone else beats him, then it looks like they could take me, too."
They don't have to worry much about outsiders beating them anymore. After sporting identical 46-2 records last year, the Lesters would like to defend their state titles this season before moving on to the next level at Oklahoma.
Matt is wrestling at 160 pounds this year, while Nick is staying at 135 for now. And while they're still very different people -- they don't plan to room together at college next year -- they share a similar drive to finish first in this two-man race.
"I want to be better than him, and he wants to be better than me," says Nick.
"Some days we'll be friendly and some days we'll be competing. That's just the way we are."
Mike Grimala covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.
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