After a long season of losing, Auston Hilderbrand is prepared to win.
The West Valley senior wrestler spent the entire regular season losing the better part of 15 pounds. He’s in Tacoma today, wrestling at 120 pounds with the ultimate goal of winning a state championship for the Eagles.
“I think I have a real good shot at winning a championship,” he said. “I feel strong, and I feel like I’m ready.”
A seventh-place finisher at 120 a year ago, Hilderbrand spent the regular season wrestling in heavier weight classes: beginning at 132, then dropping to 126 after the Christmas break.
“He wrestled a lot over the summer and got some very good experience – he wrestled somewhere between 30 and 40 freestyle matches,” West Valley coach Mike Bundy said. “But I think he let his weight get away from him a little bit and he came into practice between 135- and 140-pounds.”
Bundy knows a thing or two about dropping weight. The Lake Stevens graduate was a two-time state champion under longtime Vikings coach Brent Barnes, and wrestled collegiately at the University of Indiana.
“It’s not like the old days when you just cut the weight,” he said. “When I was at Indiana I had to drop from 180 to 160, so I know what it’s like. It’s a strain on the body.
“The idea now is to lose the weight slowly and in a healthy way. You want to make sure you get to your target weight and still feel strong and have the stamina you need to compete successfully.
Under the state’s weight management program, Hilderbrand lost his weight slowly, making his season debut at 120 in the district 2A tournament. He entered the state tournament as the No. 2 seed from the Eastern Region after losing a tough match against Sergio Morales of Toppenish in the 120-pound finale Feb. 9 in Ellensburg.
Hilderbrand relies on his strength to win matches, a tactic that was honed wrestling in upper classes.
“I think it helped me – wrestling up,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence going into this weekend. This is my third year at state and I feel better going into this tournament than I did last year. As a sophomore I think I was a little overwhelmed by it all and didn’t win a match. This year I believe I’ve got a real shot at the championship.”
Hilderbrand enters the state tournament as the No. 4-ranked wrestler at 120. Glenn Robertson of Fife, the state champion last year at 106, is ranked No. 1. Last year’s runner-up, Adam Burchett of Klahowya, is No. 2 and Morales is No. 3.
“I’ve seen the other guys wrestle at tournaments, so I have a good idea about how to wrestle them,” Hilderbrand said.
The regional match with Morales, a 7-1 loss, was a good match, Bundy said. Especially one to have at a regional tournament where the only thing on the line was seeding into this weekend’s 25th annual Mat Classic.
“We made a mistake early in the match and couldn’t recover against a good wrestler and a tough kid,” the coach said. “He got caught in an attack early and kind of got stuck. If we wrestled him again, it would be a different match and we’d attack him differently.
“It was a good match to learn from.”
There is a sense of nostalgia for Bundy at the state tournament.
“I have a hard time believing that it’s been 15 years since I wrestled in this tournament,” he said. “It’s going to be fun. There will be a lot of stuff celebrating 25 years of this tournament.”