North Hills wrestler Hillegas learns from 1st career defeat
By: Drew Karpen
Tuesday, January 9, 2018 | 5:15 PM
It started later than expected, but North Hills' Sam Hillegas finally was able to get on the mat to begin his PIAA title defense.
Hillegas is coming off a historic season, becoming the first Indians wrestler to win a state title since the merger of Ross Township and Westview into the North Hills School District in 1960.
“It was really cool, because it has never been done before,” said Hillegas, who finished 43-0 and also won a WPIAL Class AAA championship. “It was a goal of mine. I knew I could accomplish it. I just need to put in the work. It is another goal of mine this year, and I know I can do it.”
After being treated for a cauliflower ear earlier this season, Hillegas returned to action at the Powerade tournament Dec. 29-30 at Canon-McMillan. The sophomore won the championship at 113 pounds last year on his way to an undefeated season.
That wouldn't be the case this year. Hillegas suffered his first career loss, a 2-0 defeat to Wyoming Seminary sophomore Beau Bartlett, in the semifinals. Hillegas (6-1 this season) rebounded to take third place, but he and coach Jose Martinez knew they let one get away in the match against Bartlett.
“Sam knows he is going to have tough competition,” Martinez said. “He wanted to have an undefeated career, but it didn't work out in our favor. He is a mature wrestler.”
“I learned from the outcome of that match,” Hillegas said. “Not just wrestling-wise, but I need to have more faith and pride in myself. I know I can wrestle with the top guys in the country.”
Since that match, Hillegas has yet to allow a point, winning the third-place match by a 10-0 major decision, in addition to a 15-0 technical fall in North Hills' last dual meet against Shaler.
Hillegas jumped up two weight classes this year to 126, and has noticed a few changes in his competition.
“There is a lot more mature and bigger kids,” Hillegas said. “They are a lot stronger than before. You have to tweak some things because guys are going to try to overpower you. Your technique wears down on kids where they can't overpower you anymore and you can go after them.”
Hillegas also made the jump to help him prepare for the higher weight classes at the collegiate level. He also wrestles with the top wrestlers in the area to help him prepare. At North Hills, he usually partners with Ethan Uechi, who wrestles at 145 pounds.
He also wrestles at the Quest School of Wrestling in Washington. Some of the athletes he trains with are Kiski Area's Cam Connor (145 pounds), Shaler's Ryan Sullivan (145 pounds) and Canon-McMillan's Logan Macri (120 pounds).
The goal of having an undefeated career is no longer attainable for Hillegas, but right now he is just looking to get the second leg of winning four state titles. A rare feat that is still attainable.
“That is everyone's goal,” Hillegas said. “After you accomplish that first (one), you think you have to get the rest. You have to take it one step at a time. You can't underestimate anyone. I might not have a good day and someone else does. You have to train hard to get that second, third and fourth state title.”
Drew Karpen is a freelance writer.
Tags: North Hills