SIOUX CITY | There’s no rivalry between Keegan Hessler and Devin Phaly simply because they make each other better.
The two Morningside wrestlers competed at last year’s NAIA national tournament, Hessler for the third time while Phaly made his debut. Hessler will compete at 133 pounds and Phaly at 125 for Coach Jake Stevenson’s squad, which will open their season Dec. 1 at the Buena Vista Open.
Hessler prides himself on staying aggressive the entire match. Phaly has similar strengths as a wrestler who sets the pace of the match. The two, who are among seven returners from a year ago, will spend another season of sparring with each other.
“Throughout our college career, me and Keegan have been wrestling together, pushing each other,” said Phaly Thursday afternoon during media day at the HPER Building. “He’s been a really good training partner and a really good teammate. I would say he has the edge over me, but it pushes me to be a better wrestler whenever I’m wrestling against him, whether he gets the takedown or I get the takedown. We always push each other, no matter the outcome.”
“It’s been three years of us grinding away at each other,” said Hessler. “We push each other really hard. He’s great for me, I’m great for him. We give each other a lot of different looks. It’s great to have another national caliber guy in the room to push me and I think he would say the same, vice-versa. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. I hope he would say the same for me.”
A senior from Scottsbluff, Neb., Hessler is a returning NAIA All-American. Stevenson feels the combination of Hessler and Phaly, a senior from Sergeant Bluff, gives the Mustangs a great start to the match. He also complimented their leadership skills upon the team’s younger wrestlers.
“They both bring their competitive attitude,” said Stevenson. “Devin has become more important part of our leadership in this program over the last year. Getting that national experience has helped and so has his maturity.
“Keegan has always been a guy who has been out front leading the team. He has taken it to a different level in his maturity. Getting close to graduating and being out in the real world, all of that has changed his attitude.”
Senior Dakota Drenth (149) is a two-time NAIA national qualifier while junior Kyle Fowler (157) has also reached the NAIA nationals in the past. Keagan Putnam, a senior from Sergeant Bluff, returns at 165.
Nick Madsen comes back at 174 for the Mustangs. Former East High grappler Jacob Wiley is a returning junior at 184 who’s in an interesting battle with Caleb Deemer.
Rounding off the list of returnees is sophomore heavyweight Phillip Rasmussen.
“We have a strong team with a lot of young guys that are hungry,” said Hessler. “They push us upperclassmen in the room. They like to bang with us. We come in and have a great time. The culture on our team has changed a lot. We’re a far different team than we were in the past. We’re making a lot of progress and I think that will get me where I want to be in the end.”