Twins have sights set on winning Big Ten, NCAA titles

Chris Dardanes defeated Ohio State's Logan Stieber (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)

Most wrestling fans are familiar with the legend of Tom and Terry Brands and their recruiting trip to Iowa. The duo had been scheduled to meet with Coach Gable at a certain time in the lobby of their hotel, but were late because some pre-meeting jocularities had turned serious and a takedown battle ensued.

Apocryphal or not, it's the type of legend that makes you think about the Brands' intensity and leaves you contemplating what it would have been like to grow up wrestling with someone who moved, talked, and acted just like you. Would you too become a testier person if you were made to compete for everything from the affection of your parents to control of the remote?

There have been plenty of successful college wrestling twins -- the aforementioned Brands, Troy and Terry Steiner, and Trent and Travis Paulson -- and those are just the ones whose first names start with the letter "T" and wrestled collegiately in the state of Iowa.

Nick Dardanes finished the regular season with an 18-6 record at 141 pounds (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)
Minnesota Gopher fans are welcoming the next generation of successful Big Ten twins this season with the surprising rise of Chris and Nick Dardenes, starting redshirt freshmen who have helped a young Minnesota team earn a top five national ranking. Both are ranked in the top 10 in their respective weight classes heading into next weekend's Big Ten Championships in West Lafayette, Ind. Chris competes at 133 pounds, while Nick competes at 141 pounds.

The Dardanes boys graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School in the southwest suburbs of Chicago in 2010 as set of state champions. Their head coach was Mike Powell, the coach whose inspirational coaching style and battle with a life-threatening illness was recently profiled in the excellent Sports Illustrated feature by Chris Ballard.

"Coach Powell taught us how to live the right lifestyle, eat the right foods, and train with intensity," says Nick. "When we met him we weren't nearly as focused as we are now."

The boys have been more than just focused in 2012, they've been putting up wins against highly ranked opponents. Chris, who stepped in the Gopher lineup after David Thorn suffered an injury, took control of the starting spot after beating fellow freshman phenom Logan Stieber of Ohio State in a January dual meet.

"It was a big match for me, but I knew going in that if I hand fought well and got into my positions that I could control where the match went," Chris says. "He's a talented wrestler and I'll see him again at the Big Tens. I just need to be prepared to battle."

Helping him prepare for that battle will be his brother Nick. The duo are training partners in the room, which means that they push each other hard, even if that often means aggression gets spilled in the padded room.

"We get in fights all the time in the wrestling room," says Nick. "We'll throw punches at each other. Last week we ended up in the treadmill area getting in a huge fight."

"Those two would kick each other in the face, but it never seemed to stick to them, they just kind of see it as part of the sport," says Oak Park River Forest (OPRF) coach Mike Powell. "They trained with the most intensity I've seen since Ellis (Coleman -- the Flying Squirrel guy) and the younger guys on the team still talk about how hard they used to go in the room. It was awesome to watch."

As juniors the twins transferred from Fenwick High School, a Catholic school, to OPRF, a public high school. It was a move that Powell said taught them how to train with focused intensity. "It's about eating the right foods and living the right lifestyle and they were always willing to make the right decisions."

Chris Dardanes is currently ranked No. 7 at 133 pounds (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
"We took the lessons from high school and brought them to Minnesota," says Chris. "The things coach taught us were part of the culture up here, and we got along with the guys so well that it made sense. You know, we were able to keep training the way we liked and living that lifestyle."

Another big reason the duo chose Minnesota was to train under Gopher head assistant coach Brandon Eggum, whom they both cite as a role model. "Coach Eggum takes care of us and makes sure that we do the right things and never slack."

Never ones to cause a stir with management (only each other), Chris was quick to point out that J Robinson is a "legend" and coach that they think does a lot for the sport of wrestling and runs an incredible program.

The program has been rewarded handsomely for stewarding the Dardanes boys' desire for competition. At the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals regional held at Rutgers they each scored an incredible 27 points in two matches.

"Scoring points is something we're always thinking about," says Nick. "Earlier in the year I was hesitant and eeking out decisions, but recently the coaches have me thinking about scoring more from my positions and trying to create bigger leads. I think it's working."

Though he's biased, Powell thinks the twins have the ability to go into the Big Ten tournament, finish at or near the top, and come out with high seeds for the NCAAs, alluding to the thought that they should be All-Americans as freshmen.

The boys are competitive about how they place. When relayed stories about the competitiveness of Josh and Scott Moore, twins who competed at 133 pounds and 141 pounds respectively, and who owned classic, aggressive personalities and wrestling styles, Chris laughed and said he saw that same streak in he and his brother. Who would stand taller on the podium was at the center of their competition.

"It's nice because I know I always have someone to talk to about what's going on in the room and who is going to give me the right answers," says Chris. "We can trust each other obviously and we can get extra workouts all the time. There is never a time when he is going to be working out when I won't be there for him."

There is one thing that the twins agree upon, that they'll both be Big Ten champions and NCAA champions.

"That's why you wrestle, and those are my goals," says Chris, a sentiment later repeated verbatim by Nick.

"We want to be the best at everything we do."

This story also appears in the Feb. 24 issue of The Guillotine. The Guillotine has been covering amateur wrestling in Minnesota since 1971. Its mission is to report and promote amateur wrestling at all levels -- from youth and high school wrestling to college and international level wrestling. Subscribe to The Guillotine.


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