Sitting in the Carroll wrestling room, Riley Lefever is asked to reflect on his four-year career for the Chargers. It began with a freshmen record of 11-18 and culminated last Saturday with a 46-1 senior season, the loss coming in the final seconds of the state championship bout. For those accomplishments he is this year's News-Sentinel Wrestler-of-the-Year.
Lefever leans back and cocks his head up. It's a pose quite foreign for the aggressive 170-pounder. On the mat Lefever charges his opponents, imposing his will from the official's first whistle then applying constant pressure until the match ends, typically with a slap on the mat.
It doesn't take long before Lefever leans forward — yep, there we go — and says, “I wanted to quit when I got here. I was going to play soccer.”
Quickly Carroll coach Scott Raypole, sitting next to Lefever, interjects: “He was a Lefever, so there was pressure to be what others expected.”
Ah, that didn't take long: the elephant in the room. Correction: make that two elephants. Twins, at that.
As a freshman, Riley Lefever was your typical “little brother”, seemingly forced to follow in the footsteps and shadows cast by his older twin brothers Reese and Conner. The twins were “studs” says Riley, both of whom were all-state and now wrestle for Wabash College. Wouldn't it be easier to pick another sport, go another direction? Sure, but there was more to it than that.
“I started wrestling when I was four,” Riley says. “But in middle school, it was like I got progressively worse each year. I really didn't have a liking for (the sport).”
By late fall of his freshman year, Riley had a change of heart. Why not go up into the room and see what it's like to be a high school wrestler?
“I got up here and right away saw all the fun Reese and Conner were having,” Riley says. “They were having fun because they were whipping people, but their enthusiasm was awesome.”
At that point, as Raypole likes to say, “The evolution of Riley” began.
“Riley let his wrestling evolve. He didn't find something he was good at and then stick to just that,” Raypole says. “The wrestler he was this year? Different from what he was a year ago. And his sophomore year doesn't even compare to what he is today. He has constantly worked to try new things, a different approach. He took a lot of chances and it all paid off this year.”
Riley started out “really 5-18” as a freshmen, he says: “I got six forfeits, so, I really only won five times.”
It was a year of taking chances, exploring new techniques. All the losing didn't stop him.
“There were matches he could've won; he should've won,” Raypole said. “But he would try things late (in a match) and it would cost him. But he wasn't discouraged.”
Riley says it was a process of trying to find his own style. He was taking some from Reese and some from Conner and some from nameless wrestlers he sparred with from around the country. He credits extensive freestyle wrestling as the tipping point.
“Reese is such a technician. He's so great on his feet,” Riley says. “And Conner is so aggressive. At first I wasn't an attacker like that, but I just love wrestling freestyle. It's my style.”
Raypole says as Riley's experience on the mat grew, so did his confidence. The “evolution” culminated in a senior year in which Riley simply over-whelmed opponents.
“This year was so exciting to see him out there,” Raypole said. “To watch him break opponents physically and then mentally, to see that aggression? It was something to see. There are some matches that are getting out of hand, like say 14-3, and it's kind of boring because you know what's coming. But with Riley, you never knew what he was going to do next.”
Asked again to reflect on his four years at Carroll, Riley can't quite put it into perspective. Not yet anyway.
“It's just been a lot of fun,” Riley says. “The team was great (NHC, Sectional and Regional champions), practices were great. Every meet was great.”
Raypole, though, doesn't hesitate: “Riley leaves a legacy here for what he did for our program. There is a room full of kids he showed how to work hard every day, how to be successful, to do what needs to be done. He's followed right behind his brothers and guys like Logan (Ables) and Brock (Norton), who made everyone better.”
The “evolution of Riley”, and even the following in his brother's footsteps, will continue. Riley has decided to attend Wabash.
Note: With weight class
106: Hayden Lee, Garrett
106: Garrett Pepple, East Noble
113: Connor Knapp, East Noble
126: Steven Cardenas, Carroll
132: Zach Krumlauf, DeKalb
138: Reese Seiger, New Haven
152: Connor Brummett, DeKalb
152: Tristan Wilson, Carroll
160: Rashad Jackson-Tatum, New Haven
170: Riley Lefever, Carroll
170: Anthony Linnear, North Side
182: Brad Busse, Bellmont
220: Jason Nicodemus, Churubusco
220: Nolan Wilson, Leo