Drew Hildebrandt embraces pressure as Central Michigan's leadoff wrestler


Indiana sophomore Drew Hildebrandt wins his match against Purdue opponent at the McGuirk Arena on Sunday, Feb. 24.

Drew Hildebrandt is the first to make the trek through the smoke and onto the mat during a home dual. He knows his role.

At 125 pounds, Hildebrandt is Central Michigan's first athlete to wrestle during dual meets. 

The redshirt junior, who is coming off a season in which he qualified for the NCAA Championships and opened with a 6-0 decision over Gabe Townsell of Stanford, has continued his ascent as a leader of the Chippewa wrestling squad. 

He's earned pins in each of his last two dual matches, first a pin over Missouri's Dack Punke at 4:41 on Jan. 17 and then an identical result two days later against SIU-Edwardsville's Gage Datlovsky at 1:42. 

The Granger, Indiana native is now 23-3 on the season and ranked ninth in his weight class in the country. On Jan. 22, he was named the male Mid-American Conference Scholar Athlete of the Week. 

“I feel great. I’m just building on every match, trying to peak at the right time," he said. "Just keep on going, keep the momentum going, keep on running, scoring some points.”

Friday night's match with Missouri saw a scoreless first period between Hildebrandt and Punke. In the second period, Hildebrandt wasted no time taking control of the contest and pinning Punke just over halfway through the period. 

“Momentum’s big, so I really wanted to go out there and kind of light it up," he said. "Not the first period I wanted but he chose down and I was ready for the challenge."

The quick pin was no surprise to Chippewa coach Tom Borelli, who's been witnessing Hildebrandt's effort to improve every day. 

"He’s been pretty steady like that all year," Borelli said. "He’s getting better at turning people from the top. He’s worked on that pretty hard and he’s getting better at it He’s got some combinations he can do now.”

"I’ve been working a lot on turns," Hildebrandt added. Just keeping the guy on his edge, trying to hit a different move and then come back to that power half. We’ve just been working on a lot of combinations so it really opens the guy up a little more.” 

He admitted that he feels the pressure of leading off meets, but not in a negative way. 

“I’m ultra pumped up, sometimes I have to go calm myself down," he said. "(I’m) a little nervous, but it’s more 'Oh, I'm the first one up, I’m ready to go.' It’s pressure, but like good pressure. I just try to wrestle my match, have a game plan and get after it."

As a redshirt junior, Hildebrandt has taken on the role of a leader on a squad that features just one senior in Logan Parks, who wrestles at 157 pounds. 

While his team has lost three of its last four duals, he provides energy through his attitude and performance that helps to keep team morale high.

“We’re just focusing on the end of the season. We just keep on trying to wrestle our best every night and things will work out. We’re just trying to keep the momentum going forward.” 

The Chippewa wrestlers are 3-4 on the season, holding a 3-2 record in the Mid-American Conference.