Raney twins went to Fargo and put Kentucky on the wrestling map

Updated: August 15, 2022

Photos: Kentucky’s Jayden Raney (left) won the first of two 16U championships when he beat Illinois’ defending champion Seth Mendoza in the freestyle title bout at 106.  He later captured a Fargo stop sign at 113 in Greco-Roman, where twin brother Jordyn (right) beat Amryn Nutter of Wisconsin at 120 pounds. (John Johnson photos)

By Mike Finn

Seeing sports stars getting a police escort into one’s hometown may not be unheard of when it comes to the state of Kentucky, especially when it comes to sports like basketball.

But when it comes to wrestling, that’s another thing.

And yet that’s what happened to twin brothers Jayden and Jordyn Raney, who were welcomed back to their hometown of Sturgis, located in Union County in Kentucky, a few days after they surprised nearly everyone in the U.S. wrestling world by collecting three 16U championships at the 2022 Junior/16U Nationals in Fargo, N.D.

 “We had every emergency vehicle in our small-town welcome them home,” said their father, Scott Raney. “Union County loves their wrestling like no other.”

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This western Kentucky county of just over 14,000 residents does indeed love wrestling. One reason for that is because Union County High School has won seven straight high school state team championships under Robert Ervin … and 14 overall since 1976. And, apparently the high school team receives similar send-offs before they head to the state tournament every winter.

But when it comes to the national landscape of wrestling, this state is rarely mentioned, especially in Fargo, N.D., each July. And that was the case when the Raney brothers, who just turned 15, showed up to wrestle in the FargoDome.

After all, the state had just produced just one Fargo champion ever — Zeke Escalera, who won a 16U title at 106 pounds in 2017 — and 21 all-time Junior/16U All-American medals.

“Getting kids here is a struggle when you have kids who are capable of competing here and we know we have them in the state,” said Kentucky state chairman Jon Carr, who said 23 wrestlers from Kentucky competed in the six tournaments in Fargo. “When they come here to compete and win this tournament, it makes others realize they can do the same.”

The Raney twins, Jayden (left) and Jordyn, were adopted at the age of nine months. (John Johnson photo)

But once the Raneys returned to Union County with freestyle (106 pounds) and Greco-Roman (113) championships by Jayden and a Greco title (120) by Jordyn (who also finished fifth in freestyle), people in the wrestling community in Kentucky took note of what these brothers accomplished in Fargo, especially considering this was their first year of wrestling in freestyle and Greco.

It should also be noted that two other Kentucky wrestlers, Lauren Walton (second in 16U women’s freestyle) and Stephen Little (seventh in Junior Greco) also placed in Fargo for Team Kentucky.

“Kentucky is not up there on the wrestling map,” admitted Jayden, who won a state high school championship as an eighth grader last February. “I’m glad that me and my brother and others came out here and worked as hard as we could. I think Kentucky wrestling is getting up there and getting known.”

“We are making Kentucky a name,” said Jordyn. “People will say Kentucky has some dang good kids. That’s what we’re trying to do: make everyone remember Kentucky.”

Jordyn was the first to make a splash in the Round of 32 in the 16U freestyle tournament, when he pinned Cadet World champion Bo Bassett of Pennsylvania. A 4-2 loss to Ohio’s eventual champion Marcus Blaze prevented Jordyn from reaching the finals; something he did a few days later in the Greco-Roman tournament, where he trailed 3-0 before scoring three straight takedowns to beat Wisconsin’s Amryn Nutter, 6-3, for his first Fargo championship.

“This is our first year of freestyle, but we’ve wrestled a lot more freestyle than Greco,” said Jordyn. “I guess that’s just natural ability (which helped us win in Greco).”

Jayden, meanwhile, was making a name of his own before he eventually won a 16U freestyle championship over defending champ Seth Mendoza of Illinois on a takedown with one second left. He won the Greco title by downing Wisconsin’s Declan Koch when he scored a takedown on a headlock with seven seconds left.

“Greco is not our best because we never really train with Greco,” said Jayden. “I really just wanted to come out here and have fun and hopefully just place.”

Perhaps the only ones not surprised by the twins’ success were those who follow wrestling in Kentucky. That includes their father Scott (who started a youth program in Graves County in Kentucky) and the Kentucky coaches, including former Blair Academy national champion Brooks Black, who serves as an assistant coach at Union County.

The Raney twins started in the team’s feeder system as sixth graders and each won state middle school championships. Later, Jordyn won high school titles as a seventh and eighth grader, while Jayden claimed a state championship as a eighth grader.

“We go seek the competition at Union County,” said Black. “We go to Preseason Nationals. We go to the Ironman. Our school has 550 kids in the whole school. We are a tiny town but have huge summer camps that draw some good coaches like Joey McKenna, who has won on this stage. We’ve had Ben and Max Askren at our camps.

“What we’re trying to do in Kentucky is to show an awareness of, ‘Hey, get out and wrestle and see what can happen.’”

Adopted at nine months — Jayden was born two minutes before Jordyn — the two got into wrestling at age 5.

“I wanted to make sure they had a self-defense mechanism,” said Scott, who retired from the U.S. Coast Guard in 2004 and started a local wrestling club in Union County. “I figured they were going to be small and never had any idea they would be this good.”

“It’s been wrestling, wrestling, wrestling,” smiled Jordyn. “No one messes with us. That’s a good thing. Everyone wants to be our friends, which is a good thing.”

“They both have a little different mentality,” said Scott. “Jordan is scared of nothing or nobody. He knew what was going to happen before he stepped out there (against Bassett). It’s one thing to say it, but Jordan believes it. Jaydin has good confidence and look at what he does, but Jordyn believes it when he says it.”

Oddly, they never fight as siblings, according to their father.

“We scrap all the time,” Jordyn said. “Off the mat, we are fine, we are brothers. But on the mat, it’s time to wrestle and we go at it.”

“It’s just a sport. It’s fun,” said Jaydin. “We might get into an argument over some calls and stuff, but we know we’re getting each other’s best.”