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Hidlay ready for final wrestling campaign

Former Husky takes on new weight

Photo courtesy of Donnie Solomon/NCSU Wrestling
Mifflin County graduate and current North Carolina State wrestler Hayden Hidlay, top, recorded a tech fall against West Virginia’s Dennis Robin in North Carolina State’s first dual meet of the year. Hidlay returns for his sixth season with the Wolfpack.

RALEIGH, NC — By the end of the 2021 wrestling season Hayden Hidlay found himself staring at a crossroads of sorts. The fifth-year senior was in a dark place as the aftereffects of struggling to keep weight at 157 pounds reared their ugly head.

Putting all his effort and free time into maintaining weight made competing difficult and by season’s end, he wasn’t sure what the future had for him.

After taking a few days to take a step back and weigh his options, Hidlay ultimately decided he wanted to utilize the extra year of eligibility given to NCAA athletes and return for a final season with the Wolfpack — albeit with a new twist.

For the first time in his collegiate career, Hidlay moved up in weight, bumping up two weight classes from 157 to 174 pounds. After taking some time to get right physically, Hidlay is prepared to put everything he has into his final tour through the ACC — an unwelcomed decision from the rest of the ACC has the sixth-year senior has never lost a match in ACC competition (29-0) and has four ACC championships to his name.

“I think I definitely needed to heal, that was my biggest thing. I needed to be happy, and I needed to heal my body,” Hidlay said candidly. “I had to get through a couple surgeries and I’m good now. I’m healthy and I’m happy. For me, this year it’s like I’m kind of playing with house money. I’ve had a great career, and I put my body through a lot, so this year is just like, do what makes you happy and enjoy the sport. Don’t worry about cutting weight, just worry about getting better each and each and every day.”

Perhaps the biggest factor for Hidlay’s return is one last opportunity at the national tournament. Hidlay’s accomplishments at the national level are outstanding and the four-time All-American hopes to become a five-time ACC champ while getting an opportunity to add a fourth NCAA medal. Hidlay was the national runner-up in 2018, finished fourth in 2019 and fifth last season.

“I was really bummed out when I missed the national tournament because of COVID, and I feel like everybody deserves to get four chances at it. I would have been a front runner for that tournament,” Hidlay said. “I’ve only had three national tournaments, which I feel like I deserve a fourth one, and that’s what my reasoning was for coming back. It’s another year for me to enjoy what I love, and I know my time is winding down for in terms of my career and I just know it’s something I enjoy doing and it makes me a better person when I’m part of the program. It’s going to be a big year. I just enjoy it. That’s what I’m thinking about, taking it all in.”

Without having to cut as much weight this season, Hidlay is already feeling more comfortable and confident in his final year.

“The weight thing is going to be huge for me. I’m going up two weight classes and it’s going to be hard, either way wrestling is going to be hard no matter what weight you’re at. It should be a little bit easier now that I don’t have to worry about spending 10-plus hours a week worrying about my weight, which is going to be one thing to make my stress levels go way down.”

With that, Hidlay said he feels as if the pressure is off as he is more focused on enjoying the moment rather than the big picture.

“This is the least amount of pressure I’ve felt (entering a season). I feel like my coaches have done a really great job of keeping my training in a good level where I don’t want to overdo it, but they know that my focus is really high, and it’s just about making sure that I’m steady throughout,” Hidlay said. “I don’t have any highs or lows, I’m just happy to be a part of what’s going on because I’m lucky that I’ve got the opportunity to do this for another year and lucky to be a part of the team and be with Trent for another year. I just have to have a lot of positivity, because I think in years past where I maybe haven’t done as well, sometimes I can get hard on myself. This last year being that it’s a free year, I guess it’s like you might as well have some freedom with it.”

No matter how his final season ends up, Hidlay is without a doubt one of the greatest wrestlers in Wolfpack history. Hidlay has a career record of 114-11, has four ACC individual championships and is vying to stand alone as the school’s first five-time All-American (he’s already the school’s only four-time All-American). He’s only the 10th wrestler in ACC history to win four ACC championships.

In Mifflin County High School history, Hidlay still holds the school’s all-time pins record with 88 and is second all-time in victories with 149, trailing only his brother, Trent. He is one of three Mifflin County High School wrestlers to medal three times at states, along with Trent and Trey Kibe.

Without a doubt, the senior wants nothing more than to end his final campaign on another high note.

“I already did a lot in my career and it’s like, why not just give what you can, give everything you can, and don’t worry about the expectation or the pressure, because you’ve already done it,” Hidlay said.

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