Two of a kind

Wisconsin wrestlers Ryan and Kelly Flaherty are rising stars

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The best of friends are supposed to be very similar, but not this similar.

 

From beliefs to actions, goals to accomplishments, posture to facial expressions, best friends parallel each other in many ways, but rarely do they display the exact same physical qualities, present the exact same mannerisms and think exactly alike.

 

That is of course unless they happen to be identical twins, as is the case with Ryan and Kelly Flaherty.


Kelly Flaherty

 

In fact, the only thing differentiating the two redshirt sophomore wrestlers for the youthful, yet promising UW wrestling team are the 18 minutes that make Ryan the older brother and a matter of 19 pounds.

 

"Kelly and Ryan are really tight," UW assistant coach Cory Wallman said. "They are pretty quiet guys, kids that really don't say too much. They are not real outgoing, kind of stay to themselves, but they are the type of kids, whatever you tell them to do, they'll do. They'll always work hard in practice, they'll do anything and everything it takes to win."

 

Born and raised in Big Lake, Minn., Ryan and Kelly carry wrestling in their blood. Their father, Pat, was an alternate on the World Team, their uncles on their mother's side were wrestlers in college and their older brother, Casey, currently a senior at the University of Minnesota, also has involved himself in organized grappling from a young age.

 

Coached primarily by their father while growing up, Kelly and Ryan developed into two of Minnesota's best high school wrestlers of all time. Going undefeated in their senior years, the two claimed state titles within minutes of each other, acknowledging the moment to be one of the greatest they have ever experienced as a family.

 

However, the toughest decision of their lives came soon after, especially since Casey had decided to attend Minnesota in the hope that his younger brothers would as well, and therefore allow the family to stay close.

 

"We really always planned on going there [Minnesota], when people would call, we'd say ‘yeah, we're going to Minnesota,' there was no doubt in our minds," Ryan said. "But Barry [Davis] just kept bugging us, and we thought we would come out on a recruiting trip, and it would be fun. But, when we came out here, we really loved it. The guys we hung out with were great and well, our faith, we have a real strong faith and it definitely fit in more here, making our walk with God easier because there were a lot of other Christians on the team."

 

Ryan, an agricultural and applied economics major, was redshirted his first year at UW following a shoulder injury. After rehabilitation and work with the coaching staff, Ryan improved his techniques, developed strength and started last season in the 174-pound weight class. However, midway through the dual season, the coaching staff bumped him up a weight class to 184, where he flourished. This year, Ryan has improved even more, in the 197-pound division, leading the team in pin victories with eight.

 

"Having shoulder surgery and not practicing for eight months, I had no choice but to redshirt that first year," Ryan said. "It was unbelievable how much the coaches helped me develop and it was equally great to see how much Kelly improved while I was out. For a few months after I got back, I could not even get a point on him. He just absolutely pounded me and that was by far the toughest thing I may have ever faced, getting beat by my younger brother."

 

Taking down an older brother is something Kelly re-familiarized himself with this season. Carrying the same major as Ryan, Kelly, sports a 4-1 Big Ten dual record in the 165-pound weight class entering the Big Ten Championships this weekend, but arguably the biggest individual performance of his career came when he went head-to-head for the first time with older brother Casey earlier this season and shut him out.

 

"Actually, that may have been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do," Kelly said. "Like my brother said, we are such a close family and wrestling your brother is hard, especially when you want to win. I know it hurts, losing to your younger brother, and it was something that we both did not want to do, unless the meet was close."

 

Soft-spoken, well mannered and honest from their hearts, the Flaherty brothers are beginning to make a name for themselves within the UW program after breakout campaigns this season. As both look forward to developing individually as wrestlers, never once do they shy from the unity and importance of the team.

 

With the battle for the Big Ten crown at stake in Columbus, Ohio this weekend, both Flahertys will be vital to the success of the team.

 

"Personally, this year, I feel like Kelly and I can compete with anyone," Ryan says. "We can both be all-Americans, if not this year, down the line. However, this year, our team is as good as any to win the Big Ten, and that would best thing either of us could ask for."

 

What: Big Ten Championships

When:  Saturday and Sunday, March 6-7. Saturday's matches begin at 10 a.m. CST, Sunday's at 11 a.m., with championship matches scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.

Site:  St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio (Ohio State campus)

Broadcasts:  CSTV will broadcast on tape-delayed basis, beginning March 8 at 7 p.m., results updated live at www.bigten.org


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