PHOTO: ERIC GINNARD / SHAW MEDIA
By JARED BELL
If one is good, then two is better.
That’s what Morris 182-pound junior Cody Baldridge is hoping to prove to his older brother, Kenny.
Just three years ago, Cody Baldridge sat in the stands at the University of Illinois’s State Farm Center and watched his brother win the 2014 Class 2A 132-pound state title by overtime pin fall.
It was a thrilling, prideful moment and one that made Baldridge determined to do better than his brother.
“As a little brother, I have to step up and show that I can win it, too,” Cody said. “But I want to win two (state titles) so that I can shove it in his face and say that I did better than him.”
Call it brotherly love.
A year after Baldridge lost in the 2A 182-pound state title match, he’s having an even better season this fall.
In the current Illinois Matmen GO EARN IT Wrestling Apparel Rankings, Baldridge is ranked No. 1 at 2A 182 pounds and has a record of 26-1, suffering his first loss in the finals of Saturday’s Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference Tournament.
“Cody wants more than one to beat Kenny,” Morris coach Jon Lanning said. “He talks about that, and it’s motivation for him.”
Despite the rivalry, Kenny has had a lot to do with Cody’s success so far this year.
Now 21 years old, Kenny practices with and pushes his younger brother in the wrestling room as the two have developed a strong, competitive bond.
“We have a great relationship and we wrestle all the time in practice,” Cody said. “He’s about to my weight now so he works with me a lot. We usually go as hard as we can, and he’s still super tough to wrestle. It’s hard to face a former state champion.”
Almost as hard as it is growing up with one.
“When we were kids, we’d wrestle at home nonstop,” Cody recalled. “We’d wrestle daily, and our parents would yell at us. We would tear up the entire house and knock over tables. We had these old couches and we totally destroyed them. Our mom had to buy new ones because we were always roughhousing.”
That competitive spirit has continued to this day in practice.
“He’s definitely a big motivator and someone who pushes me,” Cody said.
Baldridge started the season 26-0 before he lost Saturday by a 3-1 sudden victory to Kaneland senior Riley Vanik, who’s ranked No. 3.
It was his first defeat this season – Baldridge did beat Vanik earlier the year also in overtime – and the match-losing takedown was the first time Baldridge has been taken down this season.
“He’s been pushed several times this year,” Lanning said. “Probably five, six or seven times he’s been pushed, but he’s just a smart wrestler and his mat sense is a strength. He’s also really physically matured even more this year and has been a dominant force all season.”
One opponent Baldridge won’t see at state is Washington senior Jacob Warner, who beat Baldridge for the 2A 182-pound state title last season but is now wrestling at 195.
“That’s a good thing for me because I don’t have to face one of the best kids in the state,” Baldridge said, “but I’d liked to wrestle a match with Warner again.”
While Baldridge won’t have a rematch, he still has the same goal of overcoming his second-place finish last year and winning a state title.
“If I won a state title this year,” Baldridge said, “I’d probably be the happiest kid to ever walk out of there. It’d just be the greatest thing in the world. I’ve always dreamed about winning a state title. I want it so bad that I’ve dreamed about it.”
If he can complete the quest, who then would become the better wrestler – Kenny or Cody?
“If I were to win a state championship,” Cody said, “I’d tell him, ‘Let’s wrestle a match and see who the better one really is.’”
Jared Bell can be reached at (815) 220-6938. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.