#MondayMatness: Hildebrandts Working Towards the Top of the Podium
By STEVE KRAH
A bond shared between siblings is a big part of why they are among the top wrestlers in their realm â€” big sister at the national and international level and little brother near the top of the high school pinnacle.
Sarah Hildebrandt, 22, is a member of Team USA and trying to earn a spot for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The 2011 Penn High School graduate, just completed a national team training camp in Iowa City, Iowa, the site of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling on April 9-10. She is among those going for spots at 53 kg (116.8 pounds).
Drew Hildebrandt, 18, is coming off a runner-up IHSAA State Finals finish at 113 pounds and a key role in Pennâ€™s 2014-15 team state championship. Now a senior, the Central Michigan University-bound grappler is currently ranked No. 1 in his weight class in Indiana at 120 and was just named MVP of the Northern Indiana Conference for the NIC team champions.
Sarah will have an overseas tour and a few tournaments leading up to the Olympic Trials. One is scheduled for the weekend of the IHSAA State Finals, Feb. 19-20, in Indianapolis.
â€œYo! Iâ€™m not going to that,â€ Sarah stated emphatically while visiting family for the holidays and watching her brother compete during break from training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. â€œIâ€™ve got to see my little brother.â€
Sarah, who got to coach from the corner at Mishawaka High School while her bro won an Al Smith Classic title in late December, is close to all her family members (Chris and Nancy have four children â€” Cory, Sarah, Amy and Drew).
But the lofty wrestling goals and shared mat experiences have brought Sarah and Drew even closer.
â€œWe keep in touch (texts and phone calls etc.),â€ Sarah said. â€œWe send each other silly stuff all the time. But before a competition, he will say, â€˜I love you. Youâ€™re a beast.â€™ Drew knows I can do this. Heâ€™s been in this position. He trains with me. He knows me.
â€œI love to hear from him . Heâ€™ll say, â€˜Sarah, youâ€™ve got this. Keep going.â€™ At the end of the tournament, heâ€™ll say â€˜Iâ€™m so proud of you.â€™â€
Through training and listening, Drew has benefitted from Sarahâ€™s experience as a top grappler at King University and with the national team.
Drew has adopted Sarahâ€™s front headlock and slide-by to his bag of tricks.
â€œPeople say, â€˜you have a nasty slide-byâ€™ and I say, â€˜I learned it from my sister,â€™â€ Drew said.
As a wrestler elementary school, Drew would get almost sick from anxiety before every match. With plenty of time in the spotlight since, that is no longer an issue.
But Drew and Sarah do have anxious moments.
â€œWhen sheâ€™s wrestling, Iâ€™m twice as nervous as when Iâ€™m wrestling and when Iâ€™m wrestling, sheâ€™s twice as nervous,â€ Drew said.
On breaks from the national team â€” like the one in December â€” Sarah came into the practice room and shared her knowledge with all the Kingsmen, including head coach Brad Harper and his staff.
â€œWith the moves she shows us, she really focuses on the little things,â€ Drew said. â€œItâ€™s more about the neutral position since she really doesnâ€™t do bottom of top.â€
Harper, who started at Penn the same season as Sarah in 2007-08, appreciates the technician that she has become.
â€œI told her back then that if she was going compete against boys, her technique and positioning had to be perfect,â€ Harper said. â€œShe has taken that to heart. It has shown. She has even taken it to the next level.â€
Harper, a former standout at Mishawaka High School and Purdue University who has continued to coach Sarah past her high school days, said attention to detail is what she will need to have to earn a spot for Rio.
â€œItâ€™s about a lot of reps and a lot of practice and knowing youâ€™re ready,â€ Harper said. â€œItâ€™s hitting things over and over and over. That makes her makes her a great technician. She realizes her weaknesses and strengths.â€
Sarah said its her perfectionist tendencies that help her make adjustments and gives her confidence on the mat.
â€œI love to just drill,â€ Sarah said. â€œEverybody knows I have a headlock and everybody knows I have a slide-by. Everyone in the country knows and people on the other side of the world know. But they donâ€™t know the corrections I am making.â€
Sarah has also worked on her quickness.
â€œI am a very heavy-footed wrestler,â€ Sarah said. â€œIâ€™ve really focused on moving my feet, elevating the pace and moving in and out. The first time I executed it, people came up to me and said, â€˜wow! you look like a different wrestler.â€™â€
Making Sarah and other Penn athletes better wrestlers is what Harper strives to do, not only with the teaching of technique, but with his encouragement.
â€œThatâ€™s my secret sauce, itâ€™s all about motivation,â€ Harper said. â€œI try to keep them focused on the ultimate goal.â€
With his current Penn grapplers â€” like Drew â€” that goal is individual and team championships.
For Sarah, itâ€™s an Olympic dream.
Harper, who was in Las Vegas on a Friday night when Sarah qualified for the Olympic Trials and with his Penn team the next morning for a tournament in early December, likes to send motivational quotes.
A recent one to the Hildebrandts came from legendary Alabama football coach Paul â€œBearâ€ Bryant.
The quote read: â€œItâ€™s not the will to win that matters â€” everyone has that. Itâ€™s the will to prepare to win that matters.â€
The Harpers know Sarah as an athlete, but are very close with the whole Hildebrandt family. Sarah, best friend and national team training partner Jenna (Burkert) Lowry and others could be seen with Brad and wife Christinaâ€™s daughter and son â€” Mackenzie, 2, and Deuel, 5 months â€” at the Al Smith Classic.
As a motivator and accountability partner, Harper watches film of Sarah and gives pointers. He talks to her about her diet (she has gone down a weight class), her training and her mental game.
â€œWe talk everyday,â€ Sarah said. â€œHeâ€™ll ask me, â€˜have you visualized today?â€™â€
Dropping down to 53 kg (about four pounds lighter than her previous class and her lowest weight since high school), Sarah made a total change to her routine.
â€œI took the cut very, very seriously,â€ Sarah said. â€œI probably started three months out. I complete changed my diet, my cardio and my lifting.â€
She continued with wrestling workouts five days a week (twice a day three times) and went from 20 to 40 minutes of running on the treadmill and a sauna session each day.
Then a funny thing happened.
â€œThe day of weigh-in, I was being nice to people. It was a whole new experience,â€ Sarah said. â€œ(When cutting weight,) I can get a little cranky. I love being down at the other weight. I feel like I can move better.â€
While running back in northern Indiana, she noticed how training at 6,000 feet above sea level in Colorado helps.
â€œI was running 2 to 3 mph faster here,â€ Sarah said.
It has been quite a run for the Hildebrandts and that run still has miles to go.
Here is a link to a previous story on Sarah Hildebrandt