Trent Hillger recently spent three days wrestling some of the 32 toughest wrestlers in the country.
And by the time he finished the 2019 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, the Lake Fenton graduate and University of Wisconsin redshirt freshman was an All-American.
Hillger went 3-3 at the national meet, earning him All-American status as one of the top eight wrestlers in his weight class (heavyweight).
“Oh, by far it was the toughest bunch of matches I’ve ever had,” Hillger said. “Our coach’s training prepares us for multiple matches at this level, but nothing compares to wrestling the top 32 wrestlers in the country. Each match gets tougher and tougher as you get closer to All-American status. It mentally wears on you.”
Hillger’s first season competing with Wisconsin’s actual varsity wrestling team should be looked upon as a huge success. He recorded a 24-9 record overall, and a 10-7 record within the Big Ten. He had an 8-8 record against ranked wrestlers. The wrestler known as Thor among his teammates because of his physique, won his first two matches at the NCAA nationals, putting him just one win away from becoming an All-American. After a loss, he earned All-American status during the second day of the tournament, beating Missouri’s Zach Elam by a 1-0 decision. He eventually placed eighth at the tournament.
“It’s a pretty good feeling,” Hillger said about being an All-American. “It’s something I’ve been working for my whole life. One of my goals coming into college was to be a four-time national champion, but now my goal is to be a three-time national champ and a four-time All-American.”
Hillger began the tournament with two wins on the opening day. First, he beat Brown’s Ian Butterbrodt by a 5-2 decision. He followed that with a 2-0 decision win against Maryland’s Youssif Hemida, a wrestler he defeated twice earlier in the season.
Hillger said one of the tough parts of the tournament was getting used to the large crowds during the first day.
“A lot of times I thought I was cool and collected, but the atmosphere makes you really nervous,” Hillger said. “Nerves definitely play a factor. ... I wanted to get my first match out of the way.
“My second match was a kid from Maryland and it was my third time wrestling him. I knew what I had to do to beat him. I was able to ride him out to win the match. ... I only needed one more win to be an All-American so it definitely was a big boost.”
During the second day, Hillger’s chances of a national championship ended when he lost to Penn State’s Antony Cassar by a 4-0 score. Cassar would go on to win the 285 weight class championship. However, Hillger followed that loss with a 1-0 victory against Missouri’s Zach Elam, earning him at least All-American honors.
The two wrestled neutral for the first two periods but in the third, Hillger started in the down position and earned an escape. He made that one-point escape hold as he collected a 1-0 victory.
“I watched film of him and he’d wait for people to come to him to score,” Hillger said about Elam. “I knew it would be a risky shot. I chose down and got the one point. He waited until the last 20 seconds to get his shot. It was one of the easier 1-0 matches I’d have to say.”
His tournament ended with Hillger getting pinned against Oregon State’s Amar Dhesi. He followed that loss with a 3-1 decision loss to Central Michigan’s Matt Stencel. The wrestlers were tied in the third period when Hillger took a shot. However, Stencel countered and earned a takedown just before the end of the match to earn a 3-1 decision win.
The Badgers’ wrestling season may be over, but Hillger isn’t close to being done. He’s trying to qualify for the junior world team and will be wrestling for a position on the team in mid-May. The trials are held at North Carolina State, the wrestling home of fellow Lake Fenton graduate Jarrett Trombley.
Hillger had to overcome some adversity this season, including an ankle injury during the last half of the season. Yet, he ended the season ranked in the top eight of all of the major polls.
“I’d give myself a B+,” Hillger said about his first actual season competing for the Badgers. “I’m really happy to be an All-American. One of my goals is complete, but I know I was as good as anyone on the bracket. I want to be a national champion and I’m going to keep on working to that goal. I had a couple of bad losses, but that happens to everyone. I had a really fun experience begin on varsity. It was tough watching on the sidelines (last year). It was definitely exciting to be there and have the state of Wisconsin and the people back home behind me.”