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Twin Trouble: Dardanes and Altons among look-a-like siblings making an impact on college wrestling
By Mike Finn
When Chris and Nick Dardanes completed their prep careers at Oak Park High School in Chicago, there was no doubt what the twin brothers were going to do when it came to wrestling in college.
“We knew we’d be going as a package deal because we’re each other’s best friend and best training partner,” said Nick, who qualified for the NCAAs at 141 pounds as a redshirt last winter.
His brother Chris agreed but added their drilling together can sometimes go a little too far.
“I like to drill with Nick because we know each other,” said Chris, who earned an All-America honor at 133 pounds in his first year as a starter for the Gophers. “The only thing is that it can be a brawl and one of us can go flying into a (nearby) treadmill in the wrestling room.”
“When we are in the wrestling room, I have to watch myself a little bit,” added Nick. “Ever since we’ve been young, we’ve fought and sometimes punched, which isn’t too good.”
Most parents of twins have probably seen a similar situation in their own living rooms, especially with those whose sibling look-a-likes take up wrestling.
And not since the days of the Brands and Steiners — two pair of twins who won NCAA titles at Iowa in the 1990s — has “twindom” appeared so regularly on the college wrestling mats in NCAA Division I.
For in addition to the Dardanes, there are most notably the Alton twins — Andrew and Dylan — of Penn State and the Lesters — Nick and Matt — of Oklahoma who are making a big impact on the sport the past few years.
And while most twins can be found together in college wrestling line-ups like the Dardanes, sometimes twin brothers must wait for the other like the Altons.
While both natives of Mill Hall, Pa., arrived in State College in 2010 as prep All-Americans from Central Mountain High School, it was Andrew who started immediately as a true freshman at 141 pounds — qualifying for the Nationals and winning the Schalles Award as the nation’s best pinner — while his brother Dylan redshirted.
Last year, the brothers switched roles as Dylan earned All-American honors at 157 pounds, while Andrew rested and grew. In 2012, they will both be in the line-up with Andrew competing at 149 pounds.
Nittany Lion coach Cael Sanderson has found a common link in his twins as Minnesota coach J Robinson found in the Dardanes.
“The Altons train together a lot and get pretty competitive with each other,” Sanderson said. “If you want to get a twin motivated, you tell them that their brother can do something. They are very competitive.”
Sometimes, the battles between twins can go a little too far … as was the case when the Paulson twins — Trent and Travis — competed at Iowa State when Sanderson served as an assistant in Ames, Iowa, where he recalls former ISU coach Bobby Douglas suggesting he keep the Cyclone twins apart.
“I remember trying to have them drill and it was just a few minutes in and they were trying to knock each other’s heads off,” Sanderson said.
For most twins, this is normal.
And while wrestling is historically a great sport for brothers to do, Sanderson — one of four brothers to wrestle in college — says there is something unique about twin brothers.
“I think (twins) probably are as competitive unless they grow up with a brother who happens to be their size,” Sanderson said. “They see a lot of each other because they are in the same grade at school. I think it is a tighter bond than your average brother for sure.”
“For a lot of twins, their biggest competition comes growing up in their own house,” said Morrie Adams, a psychologist in Iowa City, who has worked with athletes the past 40 years, including the Steiner twins, Troy and Terry.
“And even though they are twins, you have to remember that one is older, even by a few minutes. And also one of them becomes more of a leader, while the other follows … like any brother.”
When it comes to the Dardanes, it’s hard to determine who is more of a leader.
“Some say I’m a little more talkative,” said Chris, who is eight minutes younger than Nick. “When I’m cutting weight, I don’t have much of a smile on my face. I’m happier when I’m not cutting weight.”
Oddly, it was Nick who wrestled at a lighter weight in high school before they agreed to switch positions.
“My junior year I said to him, ‘Why don’t you go lighter for once,’” recalled Nick, who won two Illinois state championships; the second coming as a 140-pound senior. “He’s been lighter ever since.”
One problem with wrestling at consecutive weight classes is that the twins rarely get a chance to watch the other compete. The heavier one will be training for his battle while the lighter one is wrestling. Later, the lighter brother will regroup while the heavier brother is competing.
But they still have an impact on each other’s performance.
“I’m always wrestling before Nick so I can’t feed off his wins and losses,” said Chris, who won a state title at 135 pounds in 2010. “There is always that thing in the back of my head that I have to wrestle to my full potential so we can both win a match.”
Chris said they simply motivate each other.
“I think it is a big help,” he said. “We’re always talking and going over our technique and going through separate workouts. We know each other’s styles very well so it’s easy to improve with him around.”
Even though the Dardanes live and hang around together in a house in Twin Cities with other wrestlers on the Minnesota team, Chris said no one challenges him more than Nick.
“Only he brings out that competitive drive,” Chris said.
So is wrestling a natural sport for twins?
“I think so for sure,” Chris said. “I know I read that Dan Gable went out and recruited twins because they feed off of each other. They push each other to get better.”
That means for many opponents of these schools with twin attacks, that’s double trouble.