Korbin Shepherd will be just fine without a mat nemesis. Although he is hoping to find another one.
For three years, Khyler Brewer of Staley filled that role ably for Shepherd, who recently completed his junior wrestling season at Blue Springs. Shepherd beat Brewer for a state title in 2019; Brewer beat him for one last month. In between were plenty of other high-stakes matches.
But Brewer is a senior, which means this rivalry has drawn to a close and Shepherd must search out a new archenemy.
“I want someone to compete with the whole season,” Shepherd said. “I want to find that guy and I want to meet him for a state title. Always have that person in the back of my mind and always push myself.”
Shepherd is still going to push himself, even if he doesn’t find that new foil. His passion and drive have always been more internal than external and that isn’t going to change for the three-time state finalist. It’s a drive that pushed Shepherd to another outstanding season and recognition as The Examiner’s 2019-20 Boys Wrestler of the Year.
Shepherd, who wrestled at 126 pounds, compiled a 42-2 record this season. He won the Lee’s Summit Holiday tournament, placed second in the Winnetonka Invitational and took a district title on his way to the Class 4 state final.
And Brewer was on the mat with him in almost every big match. Shepherd won the Class 4 120-pound state title when Brewer forfeited due to an injury the year before. He lost to Brewer in overtime in the Winnetonka final and won when an ankle injury sidelined Brewer in the district final.
Which made it almost inevitable that Shepherd and Brewer, who have competed with and against each other since Shepherd was in sixth grade, would meet again at Mizzou Arena.
“Those were the matches I looked forward to,” Shepherd said. “We’re friends off the mat, but when we’re on the mat it’s go time.”
Their final meeting was a stalemate for six minutes with each only able to score an escape. But in the opening seconds of overtime, Brewer grabbed Shepherd’s leg and earned a takedown for a 3-1 sudden victory.
“I’ve watched the match a few times and the ref saw what he saw,” Shepherd said. “I’m not a ref myself so I’m going to trust their best judgment. From here on out I can’t let things fall into the refs’ hands, so it never should have come down to that. There are things I could have done differently, but it’s in the past.”
Blue Springs wrestling coach Bobbe Lowe questioned the takedown call, but he doesn’t question how that loss would affect Shepherd. Three days after the state meet, Lowe said Shepherd was back at work in the Wildcats’ room.
“He’s always been a pretty highly driven kid,” Lowe said. “He did a fantastic job this year of stepping up in our room and becoming more of a leader. His drive doesn’t come from anything else other than him. It’s just something he’s got a lot of passion about.”
It’s a passion that started in the third grade, when Shepherd decided to forsake all other sports for wrestling. It was going to power him to another successful run this spring in the Folkstyle Nationals in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where he placed fourth last year.
But that tournament, like everything else in sports, has been wiped out in the battle to contain the coronavirus.
“He was already on his way to having a good spring and possibly doing some things in April and May,” Lowe said. “With what’s happening now it’s kind of changed his plans, but he’s also the kind of kid who’s at home getting a workout in while the other kids aren’t. And that’s kind of what separates him from other people.”
That, and a powerful drive that needs neither nemesis nor defeat to propel it.
“That motivates me, that loss, but I’m motivated every day,” Shepherd said. “I have three younger siblings and if we’re playing Monopoly, I’m motivated to beat them.
“I’m competitive, I want to be the best. I’m going to work everyday to hone my craft and be the best.”