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Four sets of brothers on Drexel’s wrestling team push each other like no one else can

Coach Matt Azevedo says in some ways it was strategic to recruit brothers because it "would strengthen the bond within the team."

Brothers Sean O’Malley (left) and Mickey O’Malley during practice at Drexel’s Daskalakis Athletic Center.
Brothers Sean O’Malley (left) and Mickey O’Malley during practice at Drexel’s Daskalakis Athletic Center.Read moreTHOMAS HENGGE / Staff Photographer

Sean O’Malley said he was “half decent” as a wrestler growing up, but his younger brother Mickey wasn’t about to let him be so modest.

Mickey, a redshirt junior, stepped in to list Sean’s many accolades in a career that has led the redshirt senior to be a captain for the Drexel wrestling team. The brothers continued back and forth deferring to the other as the more talented one.

Some siblings may have claimed they were the better brother. But competing against one another was never an option for the “synergistic” O’Malleys.

“We don’t look at one another as competition,” Sean said. “We just try to push each other to get better. If Mickey has something he’s improving on really well and I’m trying to improve on the same thing, Mickey will help me out with what I need to do in order to get the outcome I want and then vice versa.”

Drexel seems to have bought into its city’s nickname, The City of Brotherly Love, with its wrestling program.

Including the O’Malleys, there are four pairs of brothers on the Drexel wrestling team: twins Deon and Desmond Pleasant, Luke and Tate Nichter, and Riley and Gabe Onorato.

“In some ways it was strategic to go after brothers,” Drexel coach Matt Azevedo said. “Having four sets of brothers on the team, we knew would strengthen the bond within the team.

“I definitely think it’s positive to have four sets of brothers in our program. It’s in line with how we feel our team is a family.”

The Dragons are 1-2, with some wrestlers competing in tournaments outside as well. Mickey O’Malley is 9-1 at 174 pounds and dominated against another nationally ranked opponent, Purdue’s Gerrit Nijenhuis, in the first team meet.

Drexel will compete against Maryland and Duke at the Maryland Duals on Saturday in College Park, Md.

Freshman Tate Nichter joined the team this season alongside his brother, sophomore Luke.

“My recruiting process was very similar to my brother’s,” Tate said. “I got close to the coaches through Luke’s recruiting, so I always knew Coach Azevedo. Going into my junior year of high school, I got the call saying they were interested.”

Sophomore Gabe and senior Riley Onorato’s journey to Drexel was similar. In high school both went to training at the Pennsylvania Regional Training Center, where they met Azevedo. Riley attended Rowan College before growing closer to the staff during Gabe’s recruitment.

“I was still going there even when wrestling at Rowan, so when Gabe was talking to them in high school they also told me that I would be able to come as well,” Riley said. “So I figured being able to be on the team with Gabe again and wrestling for coaches I already have a relationship with would be a lot of fun.”

Having his brother next to him has helped Sean O’Malley develop an even stronger bond with Mickey.

“Having some blood right next to you definitely makes things a lot easier,” he said. “Me and Mickey will go through some hardship and he’s my go-to guy to talk to and I feel like I’m the same with him.”

Having a brother around also means having a partner available to squeeze in some extra training. Coming up together in Chambersburg Area Senior High School, the Nichters often drilled together.

“We wrestled a lot throughout high school because our team was pretty good, but Tate and I were the only ones who could really push each other,” said Luke Nichter, who is 7-1 at 149 pounds. “It’s nice now coming into the Drexel room where each of us have two different separate partners that can push us and then we can still wrestle each other if we want extra work.”

Competing against one another is normal for Desmond Pleasant and his “older” (by one minute) brother Deon. They embraced the friendly competition when their first wrestling match ended up being against each other.

“I just remember all the fun we had,” Deon said. “It kind of fueled us to keep going.”

They enjoy competition whether it’s video games or wrestling, but they continue to support each other during their matches.

“We help each other out a lot,” Riley Onorato said. “If one of us is on the side and one is watching, we’ll tell each other what we saw that we’re doing wrong so we’re kind of a coach to each other as well. It’s more than having a partner.”

Although Gabe and Riley Onorato have found that there could be one negative to having your brother on your team.

“The only thing I can think of is people trying to compare you to each other,” said Gabe, who is 5-2 at 149 pounds. “You’re not the same person and you shouldn’t be. You’re your own individual, so you shouldn’t be compared to your brother.”

But the good seems to outweigh the bad for the brothers at Drexel as they continue to motivate each other.

“We always want each other to be great,” Gabe said. “I want my brother to have just as much success as myself. We never try to one-up each other, we’re trying to make each other better at all times.”