Close call not enough

This story appeared in the Greater Cincinnati edition of the Jan./Feb. ESPN RISE Magazine.

After practices and home wrestling meets, Moeller's Pierce Harger hops into his Nissan Altima and heads northeast to his house in Loveland, nearly 25 minutes from the school.

His classmate, Jake Corrill, turns the key in the ignition of his black Audi GT and drives southeast to Batavia, close to 40 minutes away from Moeller.

While the two senior grapplers live in different corners of suburban Cincinnati, their wrestling careers have brought them as close as brothers. As freshmen, Harger and Corrill quickly forged a bond, and they've remained close throughout their careers. Whether it's carrying their gear to practice together or sitting in the stands game-planning before matches, there aren't many wrestling-related activities they don't do together.

Away from the mat, they've even gone on double dates together.

"We are pretty tight; we hang out a lot during school and wrestling," says Corrill. "We don't hang out a lot (outside of school), but I'd say he's my best friend."

Soon, each hopes to add a state title to the mix. Last year, the two were closer than ever to capturing a Division I championship.

"It was tough," says Corrill, who finished third at 119 pounds last season but will wrestle at 125 this year. "I wanted to win it since freshman year."

Harger, who placed third at 145 pounds and is now wrestling at 152, shared in his friend's disappointment.

"It was tough 'cause it was a close match," Harger says of his 9-6 loss to St. Ignatius' David Habat in the semifinals.

With one last shot at a state crown on the horizon, Harger and Corrill have a common goal: use their friendship to elevate each other past the close calls and follow in the footsteps of former Moeller stars Germane Lindsey and Frank Becker, both of whom ended their careers with championships in 2007.

"We looked up to them," says Harger. "They treated us good (when we were freshmen). We try to emulate that now that we're seniors. We are trying to be good team leaders and have a productive year."

Harger, the more decorated of the two, entered the winter rated the nation's No. 11 wrestler in the 152-pound weight class by InterMat. Corrrill has flown under the radar nationally, but state favorites Logan Stieber of Monroeville and Gus Sako of St. Edward would be unwise to underestimate him.

"They're going to be two of the top kids in the state," says Moeller head coach Jeff Gaier of his senior stars. "They're our anchors, and we expect a lot out of them."

To meet Gaier's expectations, Harger and Corrill both had to work back to full strength after sustaining offseason injuries. Corrill injured his back in April, and a few months later the injury bug bit Harger, who hurt his shoulder.

They kept each other upbeat during the recovery process and were ready to go by the beginning of the season, which was great news for the Crusaders considering Harger and Corrill combined to go 76-12 last season. Their third-place finishes at state helped Moeller take ninth at the Division I tournament -- the top finish by a Greater Cincy school.

Harger was the team's most successful wrestler last year, finishing 39-5. He won the GCL crown and took first at districts and sectionals. A three-time state placer, Harger went on to cop a Greco-Roman crown and place second in freestyle at the Western Regionals in Las Vegas in April.

Corrill nearly matched his best friend win for win in 2008-09, wrapping up his third season at 37-7. He was a district runner-up and earned Cincinnati Enquirer All-Star honors.

While last season was a success for both, the bitter ending still haunts them. That's why you can find Harger and Corrill putting in extra time in the weight room during the week and spending even more time together to ensure they are in optimum shape when the grueling state meet rolls around.

Despite competing in different weight classes, they seek out each other's advice on how to attack opponents and they discuss their performances after matches. Harger is quick to note that Corrill has come a long way from his freshman season.

"I call him Jake the Snake 'cause he's scrappy," says Harger. "Technically, he has grown a lot."

Corrill offered support after Harger's loss at state last season, boosting his teammate's confidence with words of encouragement.

"I remember he was upset," Corrill says. "Pierce was the better wrestler. I just told him to put it out of his memory."

This year, Corrill and Harger have taken an increased interest in developing the younger wrestlers on Moeller's roster and have improved their leadership qualities, much to the delight of Gaier.

"Pierce's intensity is a lot higher," says Gaier. "His love of wrestling and his drilling are much higher.

"Jake just keeps getting better," the coach adds. "He had a big jump in success last year, and I think this year will be a continuation of it. He's focused and doing all the right things."

With both having Division I scholarships locked up -- Harger to Northwestern and Corrill to North Carolina -- opponents would be wise not to overlook the best friends from Moeller this year. Each has vowed to push the other to make sure they are both standing in the winner's circle come March.

"I'll be upset if it doesn't happen," says Harger. "I'm going harder in the weight room and in practice, so I think I'm at the right place."

"I'm not going to go another year without winning a state title," adds Corrill. "I will not be able to accept not getting one. Not winning a state title is not an option."