Dream season put to rest with National Championship

Dream season put to rest with National Championship

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (GoThunderWolves.com - Mar. 9, 2013) - Winning a National Championship had always been a dream for Jesse Hillhouse (Sr., Casper, Wyo.). A long season of hard work and dedication finally came to fruition for Hillhouse as he defeated Jerry Huff of Adams State 4-2 in sudden overtime to capture the 125-pound title.

Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference foes, the two had not squared off yet this season, and the stage was set by each gladiator's performance at the Super Region 4 Championships.  Hillhouse, who had been ranked number-one for most of the season, suffered his first loss to a Division II opponent of the season to Grand Canyon's Kyle McCrite, the defending national champion, and Huff defeated McCrite to sweep to the regional title.

The match started slowly as both wrestlers worked to feel each other out. No offense was initiated by either wrestler as they worked their grapples to find an advantage leading to a tied 0-0 score after the first period.

After winning the toss and deferring until the third period, Huff took the down position to start the second period. Huff tried numerous times to break the grasp of Hillhouse until the 59 second mark, erasing an opportunity to earn a bonus point for riding time.

Starting in the down position to begin the final period, Hillhouse needed only an escape to even the score. Instead he did one better. As he worked to his feet, Hillhouse was able to work around Huff and gain position to be awarded a 2-point reversal - and the lead.

Just as the reverse was scored, the wrestler worked out of bounds, leading to a coaches' challenge by Grizzly head coach Jason Ramstetter. The review not only held up for the two points, but a ruling by the outside referee on a lock was also overturned.

Huff was able to work away and earn an escape point with under a minute remaining in regulation to force overtime with score tied at 2-2.

Overtime proved to be all Hillhouse needed to claim the title as he erupted on the whistle to snatch Huff's leg score the match-winning takedown within 10 seconds.

"Jesse was on a mission, he did everything we told him to do, worked hard and wrestled a smart match," said coach Dax Charles. "He finished the job."

The win puts Hillhouse into an elite class of Pack wrestlers, as he became just the fourth wrestler to win a national championship at Division II in program history. It is the first title won since the program restarted in 2008, and the first since Trent Monlux was crowned champion at 174 pounds in 1999.  When factoring in NAIA championships as well, Hillhouse is the 12th national champion in program history.

The championship overshadowed a solid tournament by 174-pounder Ray Hall (Jr., Garfield, Ark.). Hall finished in 8th place, garnering All-American honors for the Pack after winning two matches on day one of the tournament. 

Hall began day two facing off against Brenden Mckeown of East Stroudsburg. Hall was able to score a couple of takedowns in the match to keep the score 5-4 late in the third, but a reversal and a bonus riding time point would have Hall fall to Mckeown by a 7-4 decision.

In the seventh place match, Kelly Henderson of Central Oklahoma scored three takedowns to defeat Hall by an 8-5 decision.

Hillhouse and Hall are the first All-Americans the Pack have had since 2011 when heavyweight Patrick Carey achieved the feat.  In having two All-Americans in one year, it marks the first time since 2001 that the program had achieved that feat.  

In addition, the ThunderWolves finished the tournament in 12th place, which is the fourth highest finish among RMAC schools, behind Adams State, San Francisco State and Grand Canyon.  The finish is the highest team finish for the ThunderWolves at nationals since 2001, when the Pack finished 5th in the country.