SIOUX CITY | In high school they toed the opposite line from one another in hopes of helping their team win. Now at Morningside, two Siouxland foes battle it out daily in the Mustang wrestling room, not to get the better of one another, but to make each other better.
Jared McCoy and Chris Bridgeford expect to be two big pieces for the four-time defending Great Plains Athletic Conference champions this season as they look to provide their team with the hammer at the bottom of the lineup.
McCoy, a Woodbury Central product, and Bridgeford, from Logan-Magnolia High School, came to Morningside in the same recruiting class in 2012 and are now looking to breakout this season. For the pair it all starts with the daily grind in the wrestling room.
“It goes back and forth quite a bit,” said Bridgeford, who will be stepping into the heavyweight role for the Mustangs after wrestling at 197 pounds as a freshman and redshirting last season.
“We are good friends off the mat but when you get in a live match it is all out,” said McCoy, who is in his second season at 197 after redshirting as a freshman.
The Mustangs seem to have found themselves an iron sharpening iron situation with the two as McCoy said Bridgeford’s sheer strength challenges him on a daily basis. The heavyweight counters that McCoy’s ability to always be in the right position to attack forces him to wrestle smart and sound.
The two wrestlers were no strangers to one another in high school facing off three times during their junior year with McCoy taking one-point wins in their matches at 189. McCoy said having a few battles with Bridgeford helped make his decision where to wrestle a little easier.
“When I saw he was going to Morningside that persuaded my decision because I knew there was going to be a guy in there that would really push me and stick with me,” he said.
The two came to Morningside figuring to be wrestling around the 197-pound weight class, but they also have something else in common that drives them every day they step on the mat.
“In high school I think we both came up a little short to our full potential a little bit,” McCoy said. “We came into college, and I know we talked about this our freshman year, we wanted to come in kind of prove ourselves after what happened.”
McCoy enjoyed a dominating senior season at Woodbury Central earning the No. 1 ranking before suffering a loss at the district tournament that kept him from qualifying for the individual state tournament.
"I was this close to one of my dreams, one of my main goals in life and it was just gone," he said. "It hit me really hard in high school and I almost just wanted to be done with everything, but I stood hard on my faith and got back up.
"I was more leaning toward football in college but what happened there kind of really persuaded me back to wrestling."
Bridgeford, who did not start wrestling seriously until the eighth grade, was a big part of tradition-rich Logan-Mangolia’s team as a senior, racking up a 46-3 record but had to settle for a seventh-place finish.
For Bridgeford he has always had to have a work ethic stronger than most as a late start in the sport had him feeling like he was playing catch up from the beginning.
“I went to West Harrison and decided to transfer to Logan and didn’t start wrestling until the eighth grade,” he said. “I could tell right away I was behind the curve at Logan with the wrestling, but I stayed after practice every day and worked with one of the coaches there and gradually improved every year.”
Bridgeford broke into the varsity lineup as a junior in high school and went through something similar early as a Mustang as he had to watch last year as Tyler Kacmarynski finished his eligibility at heavyweight.
“We wrestled quite a bit every day and last year during open mats wrestling with him I was actually struggling with whether I wanted to redshirt or not because we were really close all the time,” he said. “Going back and forth with him there were days where I said ‘I am not going to redshirt, I am going after the spot,’ and there were days where I felt it would be smarter to redshirt.
“I am just excited to get back on the mat this year because it has been almost two years since I have actually worn a Morningside singlet.”
McCoy was enjoying a strong season last year and looked well on his way to qualifying for the national tournament when a shot he took in the quarterfinals led to a concussion and an injury default out of the North Qualifier. He finished with a 10-6 record.
"In January and February I was hitting on all cylinders feeling great and wrestling really well," he said. "Just to have it happen so fast in that tournament to know you are done, all your expectations and dreams are gone for that season."
The pair is hungry for success but not weighted down by any expectations in a program that has come to expect success.
“I feel like in wrestling every wrestler brings something different … this is mine now and I have the reins,” McCoy said. “The thing about wrestling you can control with your work ethic where you want to go and it is up to you.”
Morningside begins this season ranked in a tie for 19th in the NAIA poll, sitting behind two other GPAC programs. Bridgeford and McCoy are not concerned about where the team stands in November having experience under their belt.
“We were in the same spot last year and we didn't have a single close dual last year, and I am confident no one in the GPAC is going to give us a run for our money this year," Bridgeford said.