The start of a longtime friendship began when Joey Semerad met Karter Brink at a youth wrestling practice in Monett at age 5.
The two were drilling partners back then and would remain to be for more than a decade. Now 13 years later, Semerad and Brink represent a 1-2 punch that Monett High School has never seen the likes of before.
With two weeks remaining in their senior campaigns, the two grapplers have already claimed two individual state championships apiece. They also rank No. 1 and No. 2 in career wins at MHS — Semerad currently owning the top spot with 186 wins and Brink on his tail with 182.
In January, Semerad and Brink — competing this season at the 138- and 132-pound weight classes, respectively — both passed former all-time wins leader Chase Brennan, a three-time state champion who graduated from Monett in 2014 with 178 victories.
“It honestly hasn’t really set in yet that I have the most wins ever at this school, especially at a school that’s been known for its wrestling for so long,” Semerad said.
“I really never focused on the wins as much as just improving every day. But obviously getting that record is awesome. … Chase Brennan has been a really good mentor of mine and Karter's. So to be able to beat his record was pretty cool. I hope to get a few more wins under my belt before the season’s over, and hopefully put that record out of reach for a while.”
That is, if Semerad’s buddy and practice mate doesn’t surpass his win total by the season’s end.
Semerad’s bond with Brink extends beyond the mat as the two have grown up together and spent years not only competing on the same team in wrestling, but also in football and baseball. Despite their affinity for one another, neither can deny that there’s somewhat of a friendly competition to see who ends their prep career as their high school’s winningest wrestler.
Either way, they’ll be happy for each other.
“We’re brothers,” said Brink, a Northeastern Oklahoma A&M signee. “You know, we’re both very competitive with one another in practice. It’s just great to have Joey in my life as a friend and a teammate. I think our relationship over the years is one of the reasons we’re in this position. We both obviously want to keep winning and be the best, but we also want the best for each other.”
“I think we both kind of knew coming into this year that whoever had the most wins was going to have the record,” Semerad said. “If anything, it just drives us to be better.”
In the end, both wrestlers’ pursuit of a third individual state title trumps all other goals. The district and state tournaments are all that remain in Monett’s season over the next couple of weeks. Brink is hoping to clinch a third consecutive Class 2 crown, while Semerad, who won state as a freshman and sophomore, is attempting to right his wrongs from a state finals setback one year ago.
Semerad once had an aspiration to become a rarefied member of MSHSAA’s four-time state champion club, but that hope was derailed last season in his state title match when Rogersville standout Jay Strausbaugh edged him by a 5-2 decision.
That setback, however, only added fuel to Semerad’s fire.
“I lost to a good wrestler,” Semerad said. “I felt like I kind of gave too much respect to him during the match. I wish I could go back and wrestle it again. But I’m not taking anything away from him. He’s a good wrestler and it was a battle. It obviously makes me want it even more this year. So I’m going to give everything I have to get that third one under my belt.”
It would be an ideal ending to a Monett wrestling career that once seemed unlikely. No other members of Semerad’s family had wrestled before him when he took to the mat at age 5. It was a conversation that Joey’s father, Justin Semerad, had with Monett High School coach Daryl Bradley that led to Joey’s introduction to the sport.
“Coach Bradley and my dad both worked for the school, and he told my dad how great wrestling was and how it helped him in life,” Joey said. “My dad wanted me to try it, so I did. I just fell in love with it right away.
“I think my mom was a little more worried than my dad in the beginning. She watched my first practice and thought it was a little violent. She asked me if I wanted to go to basketball tryouts the next week, and I told her, ‘Heck no, I don’t want to do that. I’m a wrestler. I want to wrestle.’ ”
And Joey’s instant love for wrestling led to much more than just wins over the years. For one, his father is now an assistant coach at MHS thanks to his involvement and interest in Joey’s wrestling career.
“He’s kind of grown with me in the sport each year,” Joey said of his father. “Like me, he’s learned more and more each year that I’ve wrestled. I’d say we’re definitely a wrestling family now.”
And that wrestling family will be able to enjoy Joey’s next chapter in his wrestling career when he joins Division II McKendree (Lebanon, Ill.) in the fall.
“I never really knew what wrestling was going to lead to, and it’s pretty cool to look back at it all now,” Semerad said. “I’m looking forward to what’s next, but I’m also not overlooking the things I want to do to finish out my high school career. There’s just a couple more weeks to go.”