Western’s dynamic mat duo
Piatt, Copeland have become best of friends three years after state wrestling meeting
They first met in the high school state wrestling championship three years ago as defending champions with undefeated records.
Now, Olathe High School graduate Kyle Piatt and Bennett graduate Elliot Copeland are not only teammates for Western State Colorado University, the juniors are best friends.
Both won NCAA Division II regional titles last weekend to qualify for nationals together for the second consecutive year.
Copeland (16-2) won the 174-pound title and is ranked third in the nation. Piatt (32-3) won the 184-pound title and is ranked sixth in the nation.
Together, they have played a large role in the resurgence of the program, which was in a rebuilding stage two years ago. The Mountaineers won the West Region title last weekend, their first since 2010.
Copeland and Piatt barely knew each other when they wrestled for the 2011 Class 3A 171-pound state championship at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Both were returning state champions going into their senior year of high school. Piatt won the 3A 152-pound state title in 2010 and Copeland won the 171-pound state title.
Piatt began the 2010-11 season at 160 pounds but decided to move up to 171 during the Christmas break.
“I should’ve dropped to 60s,” Piatt said with a laugh recently. “No. I knew Copeland was one of the tougher kids in the state. I figured if I want to beat the best I’ve got to wrestle the best. I remember watching Copeland in the state finals our junior year. I remember looking at my dad and said, ‘That kid has a hell of a double (leg takedown).’ “
Copeland (32-0) defeated Piatt (37-1) 10-5 for the state title and finished his career at Bennett as a two-time state champion.
“It was one of the highlighted matches of the state tournament that year,” Western State coach Miles Van Hee said. “We hadn’t signed either one of them at that point.”
Both were highly recruited, but neither one had made a decision about college.
Piatt, who helped Olathe win a state football title earlier his senior year, was being recruited for football. He knew he wanted to focus on one sport in college, but he had trouble deciding which one — until the loss in the state wrestling finals.
“I was planning on playing football in college,” Piatt said. “The reason I decided to wrestle was because I lost at state. The reason I wound up at Western was because of this guy (Copeland).”
Shortly after the wrestling season ended, each committed to Western State without knowing the other did.
“They both knew we were recruiting them,” Van Hee said. “I think Kyle Piatt committed first, then Cope came in a little bit after that. We told them both our game plan. Like anything else, you recruit the best in the state. That’s what you want as workout partners.”
They showed up at Western’s annual summer camp and found out they would share a dorm room for the week.
“I was worried about him,” Copeland said. “I was fine. I remember walking into the dorm room, and coach was like, ‘You’re rooming with Piatt.’ All right. He was like, ‘What’s up Cope?’ Like we’ve known each other forever.”
Piatt admitted he had mixed feelings about it, but those feelings quickly changed.
“At first, you lose to a guy in the state finals, it’s not a great feeling,” Piatt said. “Like Cope said when we got up there, coach put us in the same room, and we kicked it off. We weren’t supposed to live together (for school), and we changed it so we could be roommates.
“It was love at first sight,” Piatt added with a smile. Copeland laughed.
Van Hee was well aware of their competitive nature and realized there could be tension between the two and figured the best way to get past it was putting the two together in a dorm during camp.
“What we do is run camps in the summer,” Van Hee said. “We have our wrestlers come back as counselors, and we invite all our recruits to come and be counselors. They showed up, and we told them they are going to be roommates. They were like, ‘All right.’ After about three or four days of camp, they went to residence life and asked to be roommates for the academic year. They’ve been roommates ever since, and they’re inseparable.”
The two have moved off campus, but they continue to live together in a house they rent.
“Kyle’s been in a tough situation,” Van Hee said. “We’ve talked about it a lot. It’s a good thing they are both mature young men. They don’t let that affect them. Other people make it a big deal, but they won’t.
“What’s awesome is they feed off one another. They’re always doing things together. We seriously contemplated redshirting them down the road. Neither one of them have redshirted yet. They’ve obviously done really well. It’s never been said, but you get that feeling, ‘If he’s wrestling, I’m wrestling.’ “
Van Hee said the two make each other better wrestlers, leaders and students because they’re such great competitors. Each is a team captain and a two-time academic All-American, and they hold each other accountable in all aspects of being a college athlete and student.
“You can find a certain competitiveness in some athletes,” Van Hee said. “It’s obviously there with both of them. ... They know their role. They understand it’s not always about winning on the mat, but off the mat as well.”
This is the third trip to the NCAA Division II national tournament for Copeland and second for Piatt. Copeland is a two-time All-American and two-time Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference champion at 174 pounds. Piatt is a two-time RMAC champion and two-time national qualifier.
This year, they’re going to nationals as region champions, hoping to win national titles, and if they can’t be champs, they at least want to place and make All-America.
“It’s nice to go back (to nationals) and hopefully change that,” Piatt said of failing to place at nationals the first two times.
They credit each other for their success and hope they’ve put each other in position to reap the ultimate reward this year.
“We wrestle each other every day and made each other better,” Copeland said. “I would’ve liked to have done better last year, but we have another chance now to go win national titles together.”