By JARED BELL
Danny and Zac Braunagel want to win.
Whether it’s on the mat, at home or in school, the junior twins on the Althoff wrestling team want to be better than the other.
“We definitely have a sibling rivalry,” said Zac, a 170-pounder. “He pushes me and I push him, and we’re always trying to better each other.
“If he wins a match, he’ll come up to me and say, ‘OK, now do better than that,’ so then I’m trying to beat what he did. Or in P.E., we do a fitness test, so if he does, say, 35 pull ups, he’ll say to me, ‘Hey, go beat that’ and I’ll try to do 36 or 37 to beat him. Everything we do is a competition with each other.”
It’s just part of their relationship.
“We always compete with each other no matter what it is,” said Danny, a 152-pounder. “Whether it’s wrestling or school work, we’re competing. We’ll compete on who got the better grade on a test or who could eat more after the weigh-ins. We compete over everything.”
Their competitive nature helps make them so good on the wrestling mat.
Heading into this weekend’s IHSA State Tournament in Champaign, the Braunagel twins have become two of Class 1A’s best wrestlers.
Danny, who finished second at 1A 145 pounds last season, is currently 43-0 this season and the No. 1-ranked kid in the Illinois Matmen GO EARN IT Wrestling Apparel rankings.
“This season has gone a lot better than I expected, but I’m not surprised by any of it because of how hard I’ve pushed myself,” Danny said. “I know I’m taking the right steps to get to my goals, so I’m not surprised by my success, but I am happy about it.”
Zac is also having a standout season. After he finished fifth at 1A 170 pounds last winter, Zac is 42-1 and ranked No. 2 at 1A 170 pounds. His lone loss this season is to an out-of-state opponent.
“What makes me so good is that I’m constantly attacking,” Zac said. “If I stay on my offense and the other person isn’t, I feel like I can win. I feel like that’s both mine and Danny’s style. We’re constantly attacking and staying on offense, which keeps the other guy off his game. I feel like we control the match and control the pace.”
One thing they couldn’t control is being brothers.
As the middle of four sons, the Braunagel twins – who are identical – are more than just competitors.
They’ve become best friends.
“I’m close with all three of my brothers, but Danny and I are by far the closest,” Zac said. “He’s like a best friend who lives with me. We’re always doing everything together, always wrestling together and always competing in everything. We share everything, do everything together and basically what’s mine is his and his is mine.”
Turns out, they’ve been close since birth.
“When we were little, I would start crying and our parents wouldn’t know why,” Zac said, “so they’d bring me into Danny’s room and set me next to him and I’d stop crying. We’ve just been close since we were little.”
So close that they began wrestling together as 5-year olds and still practice together despite the weight difference.
“A lot of the people who we wrestle with don’t push us as hard as we push each other,” Danny said. “They don’t always have the same passion for it as we do. Since we’ve been little kids, we’ve been matched up together and push each other to be the best.”
Both are hoping to become the best this Saturday and bring home state titles.
Danny came close last season but lost in the state title match.
“It was devastating,” he said. “I worked so hard all year and I got so far. I was wrestling great but then, six minutes later, it’s all gone. That was devastating but also fueled the fire for this past year.”
Each is looking to achieve their lifelong goal of becoming a state champion and capturing the program’s second state title in as many years.
“It’d be a dream come true,” Zac said. “I’ve been working really hard for it. I think it’d feel great to have all the hard work pay off. It’d just be me reaching my goal.”
Both leaving Champaign together as state champions would be even more special.
“That would be awesome, and I think that’s our dad’s ultimate dream,” Zac said. “I know he’s been thinking about it all year. He pushes us more than our coaches do and he pushes us more than anybody I can think of. He’s the one who’s always getting us to eat better, practice more and lift more. I think it’d be great to do it for him, too.”
If both bring home state titles, it would do little to settle any competition as the question would still linger – weight being equal, who’d win in a match?
“This one again,” Zac joked. “We get asked that all the time. I’m not really sure how to answer that because we have two different styles. He’s doesn’t tie up as much as I do. He fakes more than I do and he’s moving around more. I tend to stay in a tie up and work from there.
“I guess I’d say that I’d win. I’d throw him.”
Danny, however, doesn’t necessarily agree.
“Overall, I think we’re about equal, but in certain situations one of us is definitely better,” Danny said. “If we tie up or get into hand fighting, he’ll beat me, but if we don’t tie up and I’m outside and moving than I’d win.
“So if he gets ahold of me, he wins. If he doesn’t, I win.”
Jared Bell can be reached at (815) 220-6938. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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