Sophomore Kody Lupfer was in the “blood round” of last month’s National Collegiate Wrestling Association championships.
The Temple club wrestler needed one more win to secure a top-eight finish and All-American honors. If not, he was headed home empty-handed. In the middle of the match, he injured his foot.
“When it first happened, I heard a popping noise, and I was looking, like, it wasn’t me,” Lupfer said. “I was waiting for the other kid to start screaming or something because I didn’t feel anything. But as I started walking and went to the center of the mat, I could feel my foot getting weaker and weaker.”
Despite the injury, Lupfer continued to wrestle and beat his opponent. The 184-pounder and freshman Ryan Kemmerer both earned All-American distinction at the NCWA championships, becoming the first Temple wrestlers to earn the award in club history.
Wrestling operated as a Division I sport until 1985, and didn’t return until the club was established in 2014.
Temple sent five wrestlers to the championships in just its third season as a program. In order to qualify for the national tournament, first, the wrestlers had to place in the top of their weight classes at the Mid-East Conference tournament. Kemmerer took first, and Lupfer took third at the conference level.
“It’s a team sport until it gets down to the postseason,” Kemmerer said. “Once you get into the individual season, then it’s basically you in your bracket and you compete with the rest of the club teams and there’s supposedly like 300 teams throughout the country.”
After getting past the “blood round,” Lupfer lost the next match in the round of eight. He had to forfeit against Emmanuel College’s Cody Chaney, the eventual champion, because it was too hard to wrestle with his foot injury.
Kemmerer successfully advanced through four matches to reach the 149-pound final. About 30 minutes before the finals, Kemmerer felt pain in his right shoulder while warming up with a coach. He tried to shake it off, but once the match began, the injury was too much to overcome.
Kemmerer ended his season with a second-place finish at nationals, but he was disappointed his injury prevented him from winning a national championship.
“As I wrestled in the first period, 30 seconds in, I got taken down,” Kemmerer said. “Once he tried to tilt me up and I posted up with my head, I felt my whole right side go numb. I needed injury time, I was laying on my back. They just slapped the mat, and that was it.”
Because wrestling is a club sport, it is open to athletes with different levels of experience. Kemmerer and Lupfer are each in their first year at Temple, but they’ve both wrestled before.
Kemmerer, 25, was a two-time state medalist at Upper Perkiomen High School in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania. He earned a fourth-place medal in 2006 and a fifth-place medal in 2007 at Upper Perkiomen before graduating from Boyertown Area Senior High School in 2009.
In his first two years of high school, Kemmerer trained with his older brother Zack, who was a two-time state champion and four-time state medalist in high school. He also earned All-American honors at the University of Pennsylvania in 2011.
The brothers were in similar weight classes and made good partners for each other, which is something Ryan has missed since coming to Temple.
“I’ve had a lot to look up to and have to follow in his footsteps,” Ryan said. “He’s definitely the bar-setter. It’s been quite tough, but it was really cool for not only him to be an All-American, but me too.”
Lupfer got into wrestling in 10th grade. In 2014, he made it to states as a senior at Neshaminy High School in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Lupfer had not wrestled in two years before joining the Owls this season.
“I heard there was a wrestling team and I was like, ‘What? Yeah, I’m coming,’” Lupfer said. “I kind of missed it because I did MMA for a little bit. MMA involves wrestling, so I was training and I wanted to see what I had left in the tank.”
“My favorite thing is just getting my hand raised,” he added. “It shows all that hard work is paying off.”
While Lupfer plans to transfer to DeSales University in Lehigh County to pursue nursing, Kemmerer is staying at Temple, looking to nab the championship title he barely missed. He hopes he and his teammate’s successes can help recruit potential wrestlers.
“I love to wrestle, and I have so much to offer to this program,” Kemmerer said. “I could potentially be a three-time finalist, a three-time national champ. I have that potential. That would get the program name out there.”
Maura Razanauskas can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CaptainAMAURAca.