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Priory wrestler Rowles enjoys record-breaking career with the Rebels

By: Warren Mayes


Priory wrestler Greg Rowles [top]

For an athlete who got into wrestling by happenstance, Priory senior Greg Rowles’ career showed he made a shrewd choice.

“I didn’t become involved in wrestling until the seventh grade at Priory when I had to choose a winter sport as part of the school’s sports requirement. Wrestling wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to do at first. It was just the natural choice since I had so many family members involved with it,” Rowles said.

Those family members would include his cousin, Steve, Priory’s head wrestling coach.

Greg picked up the sport quickly and recently finished second in the 170-pound division at the Class 2 state tournament in Columbia. He lost to defending state champion Kellen Ekern, of Mexico, Missouri. Ekern, who ended with a 49-1 record, won by fall over Greg in 4 minutes, 46 seconds for his third state title. Greg finished with a 45-5 mark.

That match ended Greg’s wrestling career [he’s playing rugby this spring], but he left a lasting legacy that will be hard to top at Priory. He broke nine school records: most wins in a season [48], most pins in a season [35], most match points scored in a season [361],  most team points scored in a season [325], most wins in a career [137], most pins in a career [78],  most takedowns in a career [274],  most match points in a career [914] and most team points scored in a career [850].

He was the first Priory matman to reach the state finals in more than 30 years.

Steve describes his cousin’s career as “amazing, incredulous, historical.”

“Watching him grow and become so dominant as a senior has been a great ride for us as coaches,” Steve said.

Greg now is the standard bearer to catch for future Rebels.

“Easily,” Steve said. “Being the first to place in almost 30 years, then the first to reach the finals in 33 years, plus holding nine school records and being a three-time [Metro] League champ – he has set the expectations higher than they have ever been. I think it is safe to say he is the best wrestler we have had in school history.”

Many think Steve is Greg’s father because of the same last name. It’s something Steve said he has become accustomed to hearing.

“I have actually gotten a lot of that the past seven years as I coached his older brother before him,” Steve said. “Honestly, we are from such a large family that we really didn’t know each other before he came to Priory. However, I quickly learned we share some personality traits which made it a lot of fun teasing each other.”

Greg said the fact that the two are related had no bearing on the coach-athlete dynamic.

“I don’t think his relationship to me had much effect on anything honestly. He’s a great coach, but he’s a great coach to all the wrestlers,” Greg said. “It wasn’t like I had a different experience in the wrestling program than anyone else did.”

In his first three years, Greg did well. He finished his sophomore season with a 37 -12 record, won the league tournament and qualified for state.

“Greg was always a hardworking athlete. As a freshman, he came into the room and quickly established himself as the best in his class,” Steve said. “He continually placed first or second in any JV tournament we placed him in. By the end of the season, he was drilling with seniors and juniors and doing more than just holding his own. We knew we had a pretty special wrestler on our hands and inserted him in the varsity lineup by the end of the season.

“By the time he was a sophomore we discovered he was fearless and he certainly did not like to lose. He really caught our attention placing in all of the top tournaments and beating some good opponents.”

As a junior, Greg took off.

“He and Tony Kraus had been practice partners for over a year at this point and they truly led the team both on and off the mat,” Steve said. “Their work ethic was incredible in the room and it translated to a lot of big wins on the mat.”

Greg won the league tournament in his weight class. He finished the season at 44-10 and was one of the captains for the Rebels.

At the state tournament, Greg defeated Nolan Miller, of Pleasant Hill, in the second round wrestle back by a score of 2-1. He had lost to Miller two weeks prior to that. In the bubble match, Greg faced Kyler Guthrie, of Moberly, who had beaten him twice that year, the last time coming in the semifinals at district.

“Greg wrestled one of the best matches of his life winning 1-0 and going on to place sixth,” Steve said. “He and Tony were the first placers the school has had since 1989. So they really put themselves in the history books.”

After that, Greg wanted to have a senior season to remember. He did not run cross country in the fall like he had in his first three years at the school.

“He was a pretty good runner for our school, but between hip issues from distance running and the desire to put everything into wrestling he did not return,” Steve said. “So over the summer he wrestled for a club, went to some camps and came into the room for our 20 contact days. In the fall, he dedicated himself to gaining more muscle and a little club wrestling.

“I have never met someone who works as hard as Greg. When he sets his mind toward a goal nothing gets in his way of accomplishing it. To put it in perspective, he would run seven miles on his off days just to stay in shape.”

Greg had a dominant season. Of his 48 wins, 35 were by pin, and on many of those, he was close to a tech fall before the pin. He finished second at the John Burroughs Tournament. He won all of his matches at the Spartan Dual tournament. He came in third at the St. Charles Invitational, first at the Saint Clair Tournament, first at the Priory Invitational and first in the Metro League.

“I believe he is the first person from our school to be the league champ three straight years,” Steve said. Greg won at 152 in 2016, 160 in 2017, and 170 in 2018. “He also was named the Metro League Wrestler of the Year. Obviously, the biggest highlight was his performance at the state tournament and being our first state finalist since 1985.”

In the district final, Ekern pinned Greg in 1:44.

“I think Greg had been looking forward to facing Ekern all year. He never backs away from a challenge and he was hoping to have gotten that challenge earlier in the season,” Steve said. “However, I think he was so amped up that he just didn’t stick to wrestling his style and sort of let Ekern dictate what he did.

“We always talk about wrestling to your strengths and I think he just got away from himself there in the first period. The thing is Greg knew it as soon as he left the mat.”

Steve had high expectations for Greg heading into state.

“When the brackets came out, we really liked the matchups,” Steve said. “There was an unknown or two in there but we also know that when Greg loses he gets super focused and goes on a run. Working with him that week at practice was something to see.

“We pushed him hard and I think we, as the coaches, were glad when [state] came as he worked us over a bit. So going in we knew he could make it all the way to Saturday night, he just had to show up, stay loose and wrestle his match.”

In his first match at state, he won by fall in 1:51 over Ste. Genevieve’s Ty Brown. In the quarterfinals, Greg won a 4-2 decision over Maryville’s Jackson Saunders. In the semifinals, he scored a 6-2 decision over Reeds Spring’s Clayton Johnson.

“I knew Johnson would have a good offense so I made sure to stay low so he couldn’t use that against me. Unfortunately, he wrestled very defensively as well making it difficult to get in deep on a shot. I also was not committing to my shots as well as I could, which made getting the first-period takedown far more difficult than it should have been.

“I think the biggest part of this match was in the second period when I was able to keep him down for the entire period, denying him his escape point while draining his energy. In the third, I resumed the attack in neutral but continued to struggle in the same ways I had in the first. He was able to circle around and get a takedown on me after another sloppy shot, but I still felt very much in control as all I needed was the escape to win with 30 seconds left. Luckily, while he was attempting to keep me down, I was actually able to reverse him to his back and put the match away early.”

That win set up a rematch against Ekern in the final. Ekern, who is going to Northern Illinois to wrestle, was who Greg wanted to face.

He was under no illusions.

“Going into the final I knew I was the heavy underdog. However, I knew I could at least keep the match close and exciting if I wrestled to the best of my ability,” Greg said. “Unfortunately, the same problem I had in the semifinals, with not committing to my shots, kept me from doing that. I think that match could’ve been a lot closer than it was and that definitely had something to do with my mindset going into the match.”

Steve said he thought Greg did well.

“It was a much better match than the week before,” Steve said of districts. “The score was actually 10-6 at that time and we just missed a takedown on the edge of the mat at the end of the second. So we knew the longer we made the match last the better our chances were going to be, and we were able to get away.

“Unfortunately, we took a bad shot and, in a scramble, we didn’t move our back foot quick enough on a cross ankle pick from a front headlock. That was the difference.”

Steve said he thought Greg reacted as best as could be expected.

“Well, it is never easy losing, but he was the only person in the entire tournament to make Ekern wrestle past the first period,” Steve said. “You dream of being the state champ and put everything into that goal and coming up a little short is never fun.

“However, Greg has always been a class act and handled it like a true competitor. Disappointed that his last high school match was a loss? Perhaps. Overall though, I think he handles it well and was grateful for the experience and seeing his hard work pay off.”

Despite losing, Greg was still proud of what he had accomplished.

“Obviously, the second period wasn’t what I wanted but I’m still proud to have made it so far. As a freshman, I thought it’d be amazing to even qualify,” Greg said. “As I grew though, my expectations gradually rose, so it was still slightly disappointing to not have another shot.

Priory wrestler Greg Rowles claimed second place at state.

“It feels pretty bad that I’ll never be able to reach a higher spot on the podium. Every year before I had come away from the state tournament with improvement in mind and next year to look forward to. This year, there’s nothing to do but learn to accept how far I made it.”

Being the first state finalist since 1985, as Greg was, helped the program.

“It really is a big deal. I remember 11 years ago when I took the job thinking that it had been a long time since anyone placed or even qualified,” Steve said. “So when we started getting guys to qualify seven or eight years ago, others wanted to follow suit. Then, we had a few come close to placing, and Tony and Greg really worked harder than anyone to make that happen.

“So I am hoping that this makes the other guys hungry to follow in his footsteps and work to get on the podium as well. Still, it had not been done in 33 years so it is a great accomplishment for our school.”

Greg said he is happy with his career at Priory.

“It feels great to look back and see all I’ve accomplished. I really can’t believe it. I wasn’t supposed to have come so far,” Greg said. “But that said, I still feel uneasy about not being able to look forward to a future of wrestling accomplishments at Priory. I won’t ever be able to step on the mat in a Priory singlet again to try and improve on what I’ve done.”

Greg likely will not wrestle in college.

“That’s not for sure yet. I don’t think I can come to terms yet that I won’t ever wrestle again,” Greg said. “I don’t know what I want to study either, I’m really trying to figure that out right now.

“I remember my sophomore year I thought [about] how much had happened in my high school career and it was only halfway through. Now, I wish I could go back to that point with so much wrestling left. These last four years felt like an eternity when I was in them, but now it feels like it was far too short.”

From his perspective, Steve said Greg will be missed.

“He is an outstanding student. One of the tops in his class. He approaches his education the same way he approaches preparing on the mat. He does not like to lose and he will work harder to be the best,” Steve said. “He also is a member of many clubs including the Guild, and our Business and Entrepreneurship Club. He was a good cross country runner, but he also is a pretty good rugby player. He is very active in his faith and has been a great role model for our younger wrestlers.

“It is always hardest to see the guys who were three- and four-year starters to move on because you have seen them grow up so much and put so much effort into their goals. We like to keep the sport fun and Greg has been a big part of that the last few years. It will especially be harder in this case as we are related. He was always that guy in the middle of the room who would outwork everyone and seem like he was not tired at all. It is hard to replace a guy like that, and I am not sure you can.”

 

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