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The Perfect Wrestler
by Damian Tromerhauser
Dec 29, 2012 | 4590 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Reed's Spencer Empey poses with coach Dan Barraza after winning his third straight Sierra Nevada Classic title.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Reed's Spencer Empey poses with coach Dan Barraza after winning his third straight Sierra Nevada Classic title.
The sport of wrestling breeds a different type of athlete. In baseball, a player can get a hit in three out of 10 at-bats and consider it a success. In basketball, a good night for a player is making 50 percent of his or her shots. Wrestling demands perfection. No matter what level or weight class, every wrestler craves to win each match they go into. And unlike team sports in which defeat is shared with all, the burden falls solely on the lone wrestler.

Luckily for Reed senior Spencer Empey, the last time he felt the anguish of defeat was his freshman year.

In 117 matches since the beginning of his sophomore season, Empey's hand has been raised. Wrestling at 171 pounds his sophomore year, Empey went 50-0 en route to a state championship. He finished his junior year 44-0 at 215 pounds, adding yet another state title to his resume. Now, in his final season with the Raiders, Empey is 23-0, steadily working his way to a third consecutive crown.

Although the streak has continued to trek higher and higher, Empey said he does not pay much attention to the growing number associated with his name.

“I really try not to think about it,” he said. “I just go out there and wrestle my match without thinking ‘Oh, if I lose this, the streak is over.’ I don’t think about it. I just go out there and do what I need to do. It’s just something that is in the background. We don’t give it a lot of attention or talk about it too much.”

Instead of contemplating his streak before his matches, Empey eagerly paces back and forth, slapping his legs as he awaits his turn on the mat. In his mind he goes through the ensuing battle, creating an enemy of his next opponent. It is a routine that has helped him stockpile his mountainous victories.

“I just have the mindset that this guy is in my way and that I need to beat him to get to the next round or win a tournament,” Empey said. “I just think ‘I need to beat this guy to get where I want to be,’ and then I just do whatever it takes.”

Despite his collection of victories, Empey, who began wrestling at 8 years old, does not take winning for granted. He hasn’t let his success get to his head either.

“I still find excitement in every match I wrestle,” the 220-pounder said. “I still enjoy every minute of it. I think you have to do that in order to be successful. I have to wrestle hard every match. I know nothing is given. Anybody can have a good day. Anybody can have one of those good throws that puts you on your back or just catches you in a funky move. I just know I have to be aware of that. I just try to go out there and wrestle my kind of match and do what I do.

“I think how I was raised is a big part of that. My parents did a good job of just teaching me good values and how to treat people. It’s not hard for me to be humble just because of how they raised me. I know I can’t take anything for granted.”

Reed coach Dan Barraza, who has had a front-row seat to watch Empey’s development over the years, said it is Empey’s drive and passion to wrestle that puts him above others.

“He is always trying to get better. Any guy can take you down in any match, but he hasn’t given up a takedown this year and I think that’s because of the mentality he comes in with day in and day out.”

“A lot of our kids look up to him. He leads by example. No one works harder than him. He does all the extra stuff you need to do to be successful. He goes running, he lifts, and he puts in his time in the room. He does the team practice, but then he has his own practice. That’s what it takes to get the leg up. He’s a classic example of it.”

Added to Empey’s work ethic is his intelligence. Currently carrying a 4.65 GPA, Empey will attend Cal Poly in the fall of 2013 and has declared general engineering for his major. It is just another advantage that Barraza said his senior has over his opponents.

“He has a high IQ and you have to have a high IQ to be as successful as he is,” Barraza said. “It’s like a chess match out there, so you have to have a high IQ to be successful in wrestling. It’s not just about strength. You have to be knowledgeable about the sport and just be able to pick up on things.”

In the face of all of his success and a No. 4 ranking nationally by many prep wrestling magazines, Empey said he is just a normal kid off of the mat who enjoys hanging out with friends and playing ping pong. And while he may not be considered the fourth best player in the country, he said he can hold his own on a ping pong table. For now though, his attention is on becoming a state champion for a third time.

“To win a state title your senior year, that’s always what you want to shoot for,” he said. “That’s how I want to go out, especially because I’ve gotten it the past two years. The winning streak is cool, but it’s not everything. I might have a tough match one day so I don’t hold it too high. A state title is what I’m shooting for. You have to go out on top.”

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