The Wolfpacker

May-June 2020

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 17 of 51

18 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY RYAN TICE he 2020 NCAA Wrestling Championships were sup- posed to be NC State redshirt junior Hayden Hidlay's long- awaited time to shine. Three- time champion Jason Nolf had finally graduated from Penn State — and it should be noted Hidlay nearly upset Nolf in the 2019 NCAA semifinals, before a contro- versial video review took away two points from him in an eventual one-point loss. Unsatisfied with his fourth-place national finish, the 157-pounder quickly turned his focus to the 2019-20 season. Except for one stumble this winter — Hidlay lost to No. 2 Ryan Deakin of North- western in early December — the Pack's leader was perfect. He finished the season 28-1, listed behind only Deakin in the na- tional rankings. In his other four chances against top-10 competition, Hidlay out- scored his foes by a combined tally of 31-6. Against all ranked wrestlers on the year, he went 10-1 with an aggregate advantage of 102-26. In 16 matches after losing to Deakin, Hidlay scored bonus points for his team in all but three bouts, the closest of which was a comfortable 6-2 decision that was never in doubt. He wound up eighth in the NCAA's most dominant wrestler standings, averaging 4.11 team points per match. The May graduate performed at a simi- larly high level in the classroom and was dubbed not only the ACC Wrestler of the Year, but also the league's Scholar-Athlete of the Year in the sport. For the third straight year, he was named both an All-American and Academic All-American. Just days after a dominant ACC Cham- pionships performance where Hidlay made his third conference crown look easy de- spite residing in one of the league's deepest weight classes, the NCAA Championships he had been looking forward to for 365 days were canceled due to the coronavirus. Soon, campus was shut down and teammates scat- tered across the country. "It was definitely very emotional," Hidlay admitted. "We were put in a position where there was nothing we could do. You can't fight through something like that. … There isn't a whole lot you can do other than feel a little bit helpless." The Dean's List student who NC State head coach Pat Popolizio calls one of the best leaders he's ever been around decided he had to do something. So Hidlay wrote his teammates a letter. "There was so much going on after NCAAs were canceled," he explained. "I didn't get to see a lot of my teammates and really talk to them the way we usually do, so I wrote the letter, just to try to turn it into somewhat of a positive, where we can be motivated by this whole circumstance rather than just waiting and waiting for our opportunity to come." The finished product was so good that Popolizio passed it up the chain to NCSU administrators, who liked what they read. With so many athletes in similar situations, they wanted to distribute it publicly. Hidlay was reluctant at first but eventu- ally signed off, and on April 6 NC State tweeted a video with the writer narrating his message. It started with a quote from legendary NBA head coach and executive Pat Riley: "When you're playing against a stacked deck, compete even harder. Show the world how much you're willing to fight to be in the winners' circle. If you do, one day the cellophane will crack open a fresh pack, one that is stacked in your favor." Hidlay concluded with a thought of his own: "I guess next year is just worth double. … I encourage you all to double down with me." The video had been viewed more than 53,000 times in a little more than a month. "It turned out a lot of people found it help- ful, even people that aren't involved with sports but had things taken away in other ways," Hid- lay said. "People have said to me, 'I will defi- nitely try to enjoy these moments after things get back to normal double as much.'" It's fitting because Hidlay doesn't like to look backward, preferring to always focus forward. Even though he felt prepared to dominate the 2020 NCAA Championships, he now solely concentrates on making sure he is just as ready for his last chance at the goal he's always had — being crowned an NCAA champion. DOUBLING DOWN After The Coronavirus Canceled This Year's Opportunity, Hayden Hidlay Is Focused On His Last Chance To Win An NCAA Title MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR HAYDEN HIDLAY T

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