DES MOINES, Ia. — Six pounds separate Solon’s Bryce and Drew West, but that’s about the only degree of difference. The twins are identical in every sense of the word.
Same eyes. Same hair. Same slouch. Same smile. Same dominance on the mat.
Both won their respective weight bracket at a tournament Solon hosted a few weeks ago, but Drew, the 126-pounder, sliced up his chin and left to go get stitches. So after Bryce accepted his gold medal at 120 pounds, he may or may not have ducked out the back door, put on a different shirt and accepted the gold at 126 pounds as “Drew.”
They won a bunch more golds before and after that switcheroo, too.
Bryce entered the state meet at 50-1 and ranked atop the Class 2A 126-pounders. Drew entered at 51-1, ranked second among 120-pounders. They spearheaded a Solon squad that enjoyed its best season in years, qualifying as a team for the second time in program history and sending a program-record eight individuals, which tied for most in the state.
And both brothers won their respective semifinal matches Friday night (on adjacent mats), advancing to Saturday’s finals.
“(The West brothers bring) that expectation that every time you step on the mat, that we expect to win,” Solon coach Blake Williams said. “They do every time they step on the mat, so why not everybody do that? I think it’s really carried over as a team. When the team steps on the mat and each individual steps on the mat, they expect to win. Now they don’t win every time. But when you go into a match expecting to win versus hoping to win, it’s a big difference.”
Bryce and Drew, both seniors, transferred to Class 2A’s Solon after wrestling for three years at Highland, a 1A school. It was a legitimate move; their mom got a job as the nutrition director at Solon. And it altered the power structure in both classes.
Now, No. 2 120-pounder Brady Kyner of Southeast Warren doesn’t have to worry about Drew West, who pinned him for the 1A state title last year. And top-ranked 126-pounder Alex Thomsen of Underwood likely won’t have as much trouble winning as he did last year when he had to get through Bryce West in 1A.
By the same token, now 2A’s top-ranked 126-pounder Michael Millage of New Hampton has to get through Drew West. And Pocahontas Area’s Shea Ruffridge and Perry’s Zach Thompson entered Friday’s quarterfinals are considerable underdogs to Bryce West at 120.
“There’s quite a bit of kids that know they can’t beat us and they try to go around us,” Bryce West said. “It’s a big wrestling state. Everybody knows about it and it’s a really hard wrestling state, so everyone is pretty good, so having a good record is hard to do.”
It’s not a coincidence the Spartans reached new heights in their first season with the West brothers. But Solon has helped the brothers reach new heights, too.
The Highland team had about eight kids, Bryce and Drew say, so they’d often have to train against each other. At Solon, there’s nearly three times that number of kids.
You can only improve so much wrestling the same training partner over and over again. That problem was solved at Solon, with ranked athletes like Ben Carr, Graeson Dall, Trevor Nelson to train against.
“Instead of getting the same look every time and every day, you get a different look and how somebody else reacts differently to what you’re trying to do,” Williams said. “It’s fun to watch (them). People kid me and say, ‘What do you say to them?’ And I just kind of let them wrestle. They know what they need to work on.”
The Wests’ dad was a basketball guy, but the uncles on their mom’s side wrestled at Waukon, and they started following in their footsteps when they were about 5. They converted their basement into a wrestling room with a small mat in the center, and the two West boys have been sparring partners ever since.
“We don’t like to lose and overall we’re always pushing each other,” Bryce West said.
“Always have a practice partner, too,” Drew West added.
Both brothers smiled at that. They’re visiting colleges after the state meet and would like to attend the same school. Right now Northern Illinois and Boise State are the top potential destinations.