Hinton leads way at nationals
Fargo, N.D. Improving on last year's showing, the Baldwin wrestling contingent won five matches at last week's USA Wrestling Freestyle/Greco-Roman National Championships.
Last summer, Baldwin took seven wrestlers and came home with two wins in the tournament, which is well known as the toughest and largest high school-level competition in the country. This year, Baldwin had five wrestlers attend and came home with five wins, three of which came from senior-to-be Witt Hinton.
The Baldwin wrestlers competing this year were Hinton, Andy Breedlove, Nathan Deel, Kyle Flory and Luke Halford.
"The improvement of our whole team has to do with the hard tournaments we go to and the training over the summer," Hinton said. "In the two years we have been doing nationals, I think we stand a chance to win league or be right up there. That would be cool because no Baldwin team has ever won league."
Hinton had one win in greco, pinning Daniel Prator from Missouri in the second period, before dropping matches to wrestlers from Pennsylvania and California. His Pennsylvania opponent was Matt Feast, second-team Asics All-American and eventual double national champion in both greco-roman and freestyle. Hinton was wrestling Feast to a close 6-0 score late in the match before losing by fall.
"He (Feast) was really good and strong," Hinton said. "I can see why he was a double champion. I felt I was able to hang with him for a while, but he was too good."
Hinton then started off the freestyle competition on fire, winning by fall against Bruce Earlston from Pennsylvania in the second period and holding on for a hard-fought 14-9 win against Brody Porterfield from Oregon. Against Porterfield, the score was tied 9-9 with 20 seconds remaining when Hinton scored a three-point throw and another two-point turn as time expired for the exciting victory. Hinton then lost by technical fall against Chad Edwards from Missouri before having to injury default from the tournament. Hinton made it to the final 30 in his bracket.
"Witt had a real good tournament. He perhaps could have gone a round or two further if it wasn't for his injury," said Kit Harris, Baldwin High School wrestling coach, who was a coach for Team Kansas along with BHS assistant Bobby Bovaird. "But he wrestled hard and proved that he can compete with wrestlers at this level, which is real impressive considering he only has three years experience in the sport."
Hinton won more matches in the tournament than any Baldwin wrestler ever has. The only other Baldwin wrestler to compete in the event was Jay Harris in 1986. Harris is Baldwin's only undefeated state champion, winning in 1987.
Breedlove and Deel came home from Fargo with wins as well. Breedlove, who has signed to wrestle for national champion Neosho County Community College next year, scored a first-period fall over Felipe Pablo from Arizona in greco. Two of Breedlove's four losses were to All-Americans.
"Andy is very improved, he's good enough to win matches at this level, he just had a heck of a draw," Harris said. "That is unfortunate because there were guys lasting into the third, fourth, and fifth rounds that were no better than Andy, but that is just how the draw goes up here.
"I had fun, it's a tough tournament, the toughest there is," Breedlove said. "It's all about your draw and when you get a tough one you just have to deal with it and go wrestle."
Deel had a similarly tough draw, losing to two All-Americans and a champion, but he did score a big win in the first round of freestyle. Deel, a sophomore state qualifier last year for the Bulldogs, was defeating B.J. Madley from Connecticut by an 11-4 score before winning on a throw and a press fall late in the match. One of Deel's losses was to eventual champion Angel Cepudo from Arizona.
"I think I wrestled pretty smart. It felt good to get a win, I felt like I accomplished something," Deel said. "I feel I definitely improved a lot from the training camp. It was hard but worth it, it taught me how to train."
Other Baldwin competitors were Flory and Halford. Each went 0-4 but wrestled tough matches. Flory will be a sophomore at BHS next year. He was the only freshman to qualify for state at 160 pounds last season and was a Kids state runner-up. He lost to opponents from Wyoming, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Idaho. Halford, who will be a freshman on the Bulldog squad next season, lost to wrestlers from Indiana, Virginia, Louisiana and an All-American from California.
"It was a lot of fun and a learning experience. It opened my eyes to elite-level wrestling from all around the country," Halford said. "The training camp was tough but I benefited from it. It got me in shape for the tournament and I learned a lot about technique and training."
Team Kansas participated in a training camp in Chanute at Neosho County CC before making the trip to Fargo. Baldwin was the school most represented on Team Kansas for the second year in a row.
The national tournament is the main recruiting ground for college coaches and is the largest tournament in the world with brackets as large as 150 competitors. The top eight are crowned All-Americans. It is held in the Fargodome on the campus of North Dakota State University each year. It lasts six days and utilizes 23 mats.
"If you want to get better at wrestling, you have to see this level of competition," Harris said. "Of course you want to win matches, but even if you don't it's a good experience."
The tournament also draws as state coaches some of the most famous names in wrestling. In Fargo as coaches this year was three-time NCAA champion Cael Sanderson of Iowa State, 1996 U.S. Olympic coach Rob Herman, Sydney Olympic silver medallist Matt Lindland, Team U.S.A. wrestler Randy Couture and Iowa Hawkeye All-Americans Terry and Troy Steiner. Walking around recruiting athletes were University of Oklahoma's Jack Spates, Missouri's Brian Smith and Bart Horton, Northern Iowa's Brad Penrith, Oregon's Chuck Kearney and Ricky Stewart, Iowa State's Bobby Douglas and others. Also present was Coach Buckley from the University of Columbia in the Ivy League , a coach who has been recruiting Hinton recently.
"I felt very honored to be in the midst of all the famous wrestling people and at the national tournament for a second year," Deel said.
"It was a good experience. It was intimidating looking around and you see studs from all over the nation," Hinton said. "The fun part was talking to them and getting to know them. It definitely was a good time."
For more Baldwin wrestling news, results and pictures from summer wrestling, go to the team's web site at: www.eteamz.com/baldwinbulldogwrestling.