The 2022 college wrestling national championships are over … but the great...
Brothers-In-Arms: NC State’s Hidlays are wrestling siblings now sharing ‘home’ battles with others
Photo: Natives of Pennsylvania, both Hayden and Trent Hidlay came to NC State where Hayden qualified for three Nationals and earned two All-American honors, including a national runner-up spot in 2018. Trent is a sophomore who also qualified for the 2020 NCAAs as a No. 5 seed at 184 pounds. Photo from NC State.
By Tristan Warner
The grind of a college wrestling season is brutal.
For six months, a collegiate wrestler endures physically- and mentally-demanding practices and conditioning, weight cutting and travel all while balancing academic tasks and the inevitable emotional ups of victory and downs of defeat.
Having close relationships with coaches and teammates is an invaluable resource. Someone to celebrate the highs of winning and lean on during the anguish of losing is crucial.
But, even more importantly, having those comrades along for the ride to seize all the moments of a collegiate wrestling journey is of paramount importance. The memories are unforgettable, for better or for worse.
Some student-athletes are fortunate to experience the challenges of college wrestling with a support system comprised of more than just teammates and coaches but also with family members thrown in the mix.
Each season, several sets of brothers surface in the same starting lineups, national polls or sometimes even at the NCAA Championships. Some choose to attend the same institutions, bearing the burden together, while others navigate different paths and potentially even find themselves in the same brackets wearing different colored singlets.
For NC State’s two-time All-American Hayden Hidlay, the 2020 NCAA Championships were going to be special. The redshirt junior was poised to vie for his first national title, but this time his younger brother, redshirt freshman Trent, would also be representing the Wolfpack alongside him, contending for All-American honors of his own.
Natives of Mifflin County, Pa., the Hidlay brothers have always had a tight-knit bond. Hayden got involved in the sport at age six after a group of older students who would walk him to and from his bus stop challenged him to give it a try.
“Nobody in our family had ever wrestled,” Hayden said. “It was kind of like a foreign concept to us. My dad was a college football player and a golfer. I loved wrestling immediately because I was able to be in complete control.”
Trent followed suit a few years later, identifying wrestling as a great outlet for a feisty kindergartner to vent his aggression.
“The sport was good for me because I probably had some anger issues as a child. I was used to getting beat up by Hayden and our oldest brother, Heath. It was good for me to start beating up on other kids.”
The trio of brothers, though Heath was not a wrestler, have always been each other’s biggest supporters on and off the mat, even when Hayden and Trent were forced to wrestle each other at youth wrestling competitions.
“There are some pretty funny stories that my dad likes to tell,” Hayden recollected. “Trent used to double-enter into youth tournaments, and since we were around the same weight, we probably wrestled five or six times in matches. My dad would never let us forfeit to each other.”
Fast forward a decade, Hayden was a PIAA AAA state champion and was regarded among the top wrestlers in the nation in his weight class and Trent had a breakthrough season, reaching the state finals as a sophomore.
Despite growing up 30 minutes outside of State College and having grown up going to Rec Hall for Penn State matches, Hayden wanted to keep his options open during the recruitment process.
“We wanted to go to a place that was really going to place all of their energy into making us leaders,” Hayden recalled. “NC State has done just that, so it’s been a really great fit for us.”
Trent, who made his commitment to Pat Popolizio’s Wolfpack two years later, always wanted to wrestle with Hayden in college but kept an open mind when other schools contacted him.
“I wanted to join a team that was going to do something new,” the younger Hidlay said. “I have always viewed myself as an underdog. I wanted to go there and be a part of something that was being done for the first time. I got to go on a lot of visits and see some other schools, but NC State’s culture and training style sold me.”
For the Hidlays, sharing a home in Raleigh with their eldest brother, Heath, has both bolstered the family feel and provided non-wrestling relief in their home away from home.
“It has been the best of both worlds having Heath here,” Hayden reflected. “I have one brother here that I’ve built up such a close relationship with through wrestling, but I also have another I can have conversations with that aren’t about wrestling. It is really grounding.”
Lifelong training partners, even if the size gap has largely reduced their frequency of wrestling live these days, Hayden and Trent have a routine to always warm up and drill together before matches. Even when things get heated in practice, the relationship is never frayed.
“We’ve been really good about that,” Trent said. “We never take it outside the wrestling room; that is our rule. I get angrier than he does, but we’re still friends when we get out of practice and have each other’s backs no matter what.”
Now more than ever, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to refocus their goals, training and vision in anticipation of the 2020-21 season.
Hayden, a rising fifth-year senior and team leader, wrote a captivating and inspirational message to his teammates just after the postseason was cancelled. The speech went viral on social media.
“I wanted to write a letter to the team because we weren’t altogether,” the veteran Hidlay said. “I came up with the ‘Double Down’ theme. We did a lot of great things this year but never got to put a stamp on it, so we can double down and bet on ourselves next year.”
The message resounded with not only the NC State wrestling team but the University’s entire athletic department. Younger brother Trent felt especially connected to what will now be the team’s theme during the 2020-21 season.
“It isn’t as much about the accolades anymore. We might have to go through some tough things, but we are all going to find a way to get an edge even through this tough experience. We only need one chance.”
Another set of brothers that have headlined many articles over the past few collegiate wrestling seasons are Kennedy and Quincy Monday. The sons of NCAA and Olympic champion Kenny Monday, Kennedy attends North Carolina while Quincy represents Princeton.
Kennedy, the older of the two, has become a household name in the national rankings throughout his career. At the 2018 NCAA Championships, the UNC standout reached the round of 12, commonly known as the “Blood Round,” falling a single point shy of All-American status in the 157-pound bracket. He will enter his senior season for the Tar Heels in 2020-21, presumably at 165.
Meanwhile, Quincy, two grades behind him, will be a junior for the Tigers next season. (Quincy, like many of the Princeton national qualifiers of 2020, is planning to sit out this season). Named a 2020 NWCA Division I All-American, Quincy had entered the national tournament as the fifth seed at 157 with a 23-4 record before the event was cancelled.
“It’s definitely a great feeling to know we both made it to this level,” Kennedy said. “Not a lot of brothers can say they both wrestle at the Division I level. UNC and Princeton have wrestled twice now and every time our teams compete against each other, my brother and I meet in the middle for the coin toss. It really is a special moment for my family.”
Despite choosing to represent different collegiate programs, the brothers do not hesitate to acknowledge how much their relationship means to them.
“I always looked up to my brother and strived to be able to compete with him,” Quincy commented. “I followed his lead and learned a lot about self-confidence from him, which has helped me develop not only as a wrestler but as a person. He has always been self-assured and believed in himself even if others did not. That was extremely valuable for me to have someone like that to look up to.”
While the unforeseen circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic made for a challenging time, the younger Monday used the period of quarantine for reflection.
“As we’ve gotten older and gone to different schools, I think we have come to appreciate each other more,” he said. “Looking back, I’m grateful for all the time we had together and being able to spend more time with each other in quarantine. When we were younger, a lot of our wrestling practices would get intense, and while I can’t say that doesn’t still happen occasionally, I appreciate the competitive spirit that we share.”
Kennedy agreed, noting that even though the postseason cancellation was devastating, the silver lining has been getting to spend more time with his family.
“The world has been going through such a tough time, so it was nice to be home with my family. That made it a little easier. My family is really close, so we have been able to lean on each other for support.”
Yet another set of brothers, twins in fact, who achieved NWCA Honorable Mention All-American status in 2020 were Illinois freshmen Danny and Zac Braunagel.
Danny, the smaller of the two, capped off a 23-9 rookie season for the Illini at 165, while Zac registered a 19-10 record competing at 184.
For the Belleville, Illinois natives, having a brother, and a twin at that, is something they have learned to appreciate immensely.
“Until we got to college, we never realized how much of a blessing it is to have a twin at a similar weight to train with every day,” Danny said. “Not everybody can take advantage of always having a training partner who can push you and is always trying to ‘one-up’ you. We believe it is helping us to excel at a rapid rate.”
Having been introduced to the sport at age five as a means to stay in shape for football and basketball, the Illini pair decided around seventh grade that wrestling would become their main focus. They also decided early on they wanted to compete for the same school together some day.
“We always wanted to wrestle together on the same team in college,” Danny continued. “When our recruiting process began, we told every school that contacted us that we are going together no matter what. For some schools, that was a deal breaker because they didn’t have enough spots on the roster. But it was never really a question for us. We were always on the same page.”
Both brothers agree, not only do they benefit one another through intense battles in practice, but perhaps even more by keeping each other in check outside the practice room.
“We both hold each other accountable,” Zac said. “We know each other’s goals, and if we are doing something that doesn’t help us achieve those goals, we call the other out and help them realize that and fix it. When one of us does a workout, and the other sees it, we feel like we need to go do a workout because we can’t let the other be better. That has pushed both of us all the time to want more.”
Danny echoed similar sentiment, insisting both the on-the-mat and off-the-mat guidance provided by the other has benefited them tremendously.
“We know exactly how each other wrestles, which means we really have to strategize on how to beat each other. There is a sibling rivalry there which adds to the competition. When one of us gets a takedown, the other comes out 10 times harder. Off the mat, we are best friends. We keep each other in check, which helps us to live the lifestyle that is necessary to get to the highest level.”
Admitting the cancellation of what would have been the brothers’ first trip to the NCAA Championship was painful, they got creative during the COVID-19 pandemic, setting their sights on next season.
“We both worked out with each other and our little brother Joe,” Zac stated. “We all would lift and wrestle in the backyard together. It was hard, but the way we dealt with the cancellation of the national tournament was through training together as a family.”
All three sets of brothers will return to the mats in the fall with their ultimate sights set on the 2021 NCAA Championships in St. Louis.
Though the 2020 postseason cancellation was an unforeseen obstacle, the Hidlays, Mondays and Braunagels believe their brotherly bonds have been even further fortified as a result.