ORANGE CITY, Iowa | It may not sound like the ideal situation at first but the results would suggest otherwise.

Last season Luis Rivera-Santiago and Tyree Cox were competing for the same spot in the Northwestern wrestling lineup. This year the former teammates and friends are trying out anew dynamic - coach and wrestler.

"He has always been my alter ego because I am really good on my feet he is really good on the mat," Rivera-Santiago said. "This year he has been really good to me. He is my best friend and we always pushed each other last year, but last year was a little different because we were still technically competing.

"This year he has just latched on to me, fed everything into me and taught me so much. He has made me such a better wrestler on top and bottom."

"Probably the best thing I did for Luis is hire coach Cox as an assistant because those two are tight, they know each other well and coach Cox is in his ear all the time," Northwestern head coach Rik Dahl said.

Rivera-Santiago lost his opportunity to wrestle at nationals last season when he suffered through a tough qualifying tournament.

"Losing a couple of times last year at the national qualifier really put things in perspective," Rivera-Santiago said. "I went to a dark place, realized I didn't ever want to feel like that again, so I made the commitment this summer going into the wrestling room, lifting. Any chance I had to get better I took it."

Rivera-Santiago credits Cox and Red Raider heavyweight Randy Null for pushing him daily in the room to become a better wrestler as he tries to return to nationals for the first time since his sophomore season.

This is not the first time Rivera-Santiago, who came to Northwestern from Arizona, has put his faith in others and saw it pay off. If fact, he committed to Dahl and his program without doing something nearly every other college athlete considers vital to the process.

"I had a friend that was a senior my freshman year in high school and he came here to play football ... he reached out to me and talked it up," Rivera-Santiago said. "I actually never came on a recruiting trip here. I talked to coach Dahl and I liked the way he was very honest with me, very open and kind. I never went here on a visit but I felt I was called to this place."

He is determined to make the most of his final season as a fifth-year senior that began with a move up from 184 pounds to 197 in the Red Raiders lineup.

"I am not cutting weight, I am on full feed and I get to focus more on my technique while lifting hard and getting stronger," Rivera-Santiago said.

It is showing in his dedication to becoming better on the mat where he is now regularly racking up riding time, turning opponents and scoring bonus points with his victories.

Rivera-Santiago is currently riding a six-match win streak to improve to 16-7 on the season as he went 3-0 at the GPAC Duals for the Red Raiders on Saturday. That strong showing included a 10-6 decision over Concordia's second-ranked Ken Burkhardt Jr.

"It was good because I know that I can hang with these kids," he said. "I just got knocked out of the rankings ... so I took a little offense to that. I knew I could hang with these guys."

The victory avenged a 7-4 loss to the Bulldog during the opening tournament of the season and is one of a couple promising results from Rivera-Santiago recently. Last week he knocked off the 11th-ranked wrestler before falling to No. 10 in overtime.

"What we are focusing on now is how do you put together matches and he has been able to do that," Dahl said. "Our focus for him is to wrestle well ... find out what he is doing well, bottle it up and hit repeat."

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