As inseparable as Riley County’s Luke Richard and Mikey Waggoner have been for much of their lives, it’s hard to imagine a time when the two weren’t friends.
But in reality, their friendship nearly never happened.
When the two were in kindergarten, Richard wore a pair of green socks with red spots to school.
“Mikey called them Christmas tree socks, and I guess I was offended by it,” Richard said. “I told the principal on him.”
Instead of becoming rivals, however, the two immediately became friends.
“He came up to talk to me about it and was like, ‘I didn’t mean to be mean about your socks,’” Richard said. “From there, we started talking to each other and playing on the playground. We pretty much became best friends from there and have been ever since.”
The Falcon seniors have enjoyed plenty of memories together in the years since and hope to create the ultimate one this weekend at the Class 3-2-1A state wrestling championships in Hays. Both Riley County standouts take undefeated records into the state tournament and would love nothing more than to fulfill their lifelong dream of capturing state championships together.
“That’s been our dream forever,” Waggoner said. “We talk about it just about every day. It’s really something we both want to make happen.”
When the two first forged their friendship in kindergarten, Richard was already entrenched in wrestling, having started the sport when he was 4, following in the footsteps of his father and older brother. Waggoner didn’t take it up until he was 9, and did so largely at the urging of his best friend and his family.
“At the time, I thought it was WWE wrestling,” Waggoner joked. “I went and it wasn’t quite what I thought it was, but Luke’s dad took me under his wing and it drove me to where I am today.”
Both enjoyed prolific youth careers with each winning Kids State championships and multiple national titles as Tom Richard hauled his son and Waggoner across the country seeking the best competition they could find.
Expectations were high for both when they hit high school and Richard was able to deliver immediately, capturing the Class 3-2-1A 106-pound state title as a freshman in 2016 with a 5-3 win over Dogulass’ Ashten Dodson in the finals to cap a 42-2 season.
Waggoner also enjoyed a great freshman year, taking third at 160 pounds with a 40-9 record, losing in the semifinals to eventual state champion Mike Kasson of Norton.
“It was kind of tough because I was excited I had won state, but I knew Mikey wanted it so bad that year too,” Richard said.
As sophomores, Waggoner made his first championship match, reaching the 170-pound finals before dropping a 9-4 decision to undefeated two-time champion Jacob Mintzmyer of Marysville and finishing the year 35-8. Richard saw his bid for a second straight state title end with a 5-3 126-pound semifinal loss to Silver Lake’s Jordan Priddy and he wound up third in a 37-6 season.
Last season, it was Richard’s turn to make the finals again, advancing to the 138-pound title match before falling 4-3 to Wabaunsee’s Kolby Droegemeier to take second and go 41-5. Waggoner was upset in the 182-pound quarterfinals by Minneapolis’ Tyson Villalpando 10-7, but bounced back to take third and go 38-5.
“That was probably the most upsetting match of my high school career,” Waggoner said. “He’s a pretty good wrestler, but I feel like I should have had that one.”
The two have never wrestled together in the state finals, something they’re bound and determined to make happen this year.
“That’s really been something that’s kept motivating us because we’ve each been in the finals, but never in the same year,” Richard said. “We want to do it for ourselves, but for each other as well.”
That determination has shown this season, their last together on the mat. Richard is ranked No. 1 at 145 pounds and will take a 39-0 mark into his state opener against Norton’s Dyaln Goss. Waggoner is ranked No. 1 at 170 pounds and goes into his opening match with Hill City’s Jayce Hamel 31-0.
The undefeated marks, Waggoner admits, mean very little at this point.
“It feels pretty good, but I know there’s unfinished business to take care of,” said Waggoner, who is 144-22 in his career. “It drives me a lot. My dream as a young kid was to be a state champion in high school. I haven’t got it yet and I don’t have plans on anyone stopping me this year.”
Waggoner’s closest match was a 4-2 win over Burlington’s Brett Bober. Richard took a 4-2 win over Luke Horn in the finals of last week’s regional at Rossville for his closest win, rallying from a 2-0 deficit for the victory.
The two have fed off each other all season long, both in the practice room where they are workout partners despite their sizable weight difference and on tournament days.
“We’re just always there for each other, coaching up in between periods and keeping each other accountable,” said Richard, who is 159-13 in his career. “When he gets a win, it pumps me up and when I get a win, it motivates him. There are a lot of days I get my butt kicked (in the practice room) and that’s a big part of my success. It gets pretty intense with us, but we’re still always great friends.”
This weekend is their last go-round. And the goal is obvious.
“It would mean the world to me,” Waggoner said.
“It would just be the ultimate joy,” Richard said. “Knowing not just the months, but years of hard work we’ve put in together paid off.”