On any athletic team, there are bound to be players with similar styles and personalities. But this season, Oakton High School wrestlers Greg Rogers and Kim Thwaits took that coincidence to the limit.
The similarities between the two are several, the only difference is in their age and weight -- one year and seven pounds.
How similar are they? They've been friends since the seventh grade, and they wrestled their freshman year at Chantilly before going to Oakton. Each has had knee operations. Each wrestles year-round. Most importantly, each came up just short of his dream of winning a state championship.
They had 25-0 records before the recent state AAA tournament and they lost -- Thwaits in the semifinals, Rogers in the championship round -- by strategies each managed to avoid most of the season.
"Both are top-quality wrestlers. Kim is very skilled, his technique is excellent," said Oakton Coach Bob Underhill. Of Rogers, he said: "He likes to drill a lot; you don't have to coach him. He has great determination."
This was to be the season Rogers would finally win a state championship, after a couple of near-misses in previous years. As a junior, he lost to Robinson's John Epperly Jr. in the state final at 126 pounds (one of four times he lost to him), but figured to be a favorite this year, despite moving up two weight classes.
That he dominated the 138-pound class as a senior was not surprising to Rogers, but he didn't anticipate going undefeated, including being voted outstanding wrestler at the Northern Region tournament.
Unfortunately, the state title never materialized. This year's 11-8 overtime loss to Deep Creek's William Stukes was particularly disappointing because he allowed Stukes to gain an advantage on him with a takedown, a move that Rogers had been excellent at avoiding.
"I was just shocked," he said. "It was a good takedown, but he would not attack me. He wanted me to come to him. I felt confident in the tournament , but it was not my type of match."
Of his 25 wins, 20 of them were pins, not surprising considering that they were the result of his 75 takedowns. Rogers was not taken down even once; the closest an opponent came to beating him was nine points.
"I work the takedown even when I feel comfortable with opponents ," Rogers said. " And it's just as important to get escapes from beneath. You can't be good in just one area."
He began the season much stronger, the result of an off-season weight training and jogging program following arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee last April.
Thwaits shares some strategic wrestling theories with Rogers, but often applies different means to achieve similar end results. "We wrestle the same, definitely in the feet," said Thwaits, a junior at 145 pounds. " But if you can control a guy's hips, 95 percent of the time you can win the match. It's harder for the guy if you move."
Thwaits, who pinned 11 opponents this season, is a mobile wrestler despite wearing protection for two injuries. He wears a brace for a twisted right knee that has already had two operations, with a third scheduled soon. He also wears a face mask to protect a broken nose suffered in the Northern Region tournament.
Thwaits' quest for a state championship came to an end in the semifinals, an 8-2 overtime loss to Kempsville's Kurt Rittspusch. "I thought I had a good shot and I expected to at least place," Thwaits said. "I didn't do that, but I've got next year."
Although Rogers and Thwaits never planned to practice against each other, they ended up together. "We'll start out slow and end up going at it pretty good," Thwaits said.
But then again, they've been doing it that way for the last five years.
Their friendship started when they both participated in a Beltway wrestling program. They carpooled together since Thwaits' father was one of the coaches, and the bond grew.
Rogers wrestled his freshman year at Chantilly, finishing second in the state at 98 pounds. He transferred to Oakton the following year. Thwaits did basically the same thing, compiling a 21-6 freshman mark at Chantilly. He moved to Vienna when his parents separated, and he went to Oakton as well.
They spend a lot of time together off the mat, socializing with other team members. They also pull their share of practical jokes on each other.
Once, Thwaits and his teammates tied a track hurdle to the back of Rogers' car and he drove off. While the group -- and Rogers -- found the prank hilarious, the school's security officer didn't.
"I release tensions by going out and having fun," said Rogers, who has a 95-15-1 career record. "This team is crazy. We never hold anything back."
For Rogers (28-1 this season), his next step is deciding on which college to attend, with offers from schools like Virginia, Lehigh and James Madison. He says he still thinks about the tournament loss, but says it brought him down to earth and motivates him for college wrestling. "That's where the real wrestling begins," he said.
For Thwaits, who finished 26-1, there is next season to look forward to. And he plans to practice real hard.
"Things will be different," he said.