The sophomore from Surrey edged Kyle Bonk-Dann of the Western Mustangs 5-4 in a thrilling men’s 120 kilogram final at the national wrestling championships, hosted by the University of Winnipeg on Feb. 25.
Bonk-Dann held a 2-0 lead at the end of the first of two rounds after pushing Hildenbrandt out of bounds, but the UFV grappler went on the offensive in the second.
He scored an early takedown to tie the match, and later initiated an offensive flurry which saw both wrestlers pick up two points.
Hildenbrandt finished the sequence by spinning around to get on top of Bonk-Dann and earn an additional point, and that turned out to be the difference in the match.
“You know, it feels pretty good right now but it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Hildenbrandt said. “It’s pretty cool to win our first gold medal, and I hope we have a lot more in the future.”
UFV’s previous best individual result at wrestling nationals was a silver medal by a fellow heavyweight, Manheet Kahlon, in 2015.
“As a coach, I don’t think there’s any better feeling than seeing an athlete you’ve been working with succeed,” said Raj Virdi, who serves as the Cascades’ co-head coach with Arjan Bhullar.
“That was one tough match, and it came down to the last 20 seconds and Brad pulled through. The guy he wrestled was the OUA (Ontario University Athletics) champ, and it was great to see him get it done.”
Three other Cascades wrestlers were in action at the event, and all three came away victorious.
Karla Godinez Gonzalez, who had finished in a three-way tie atop her women’s 51 kg pool but was relegated to the fifth/sixth placing match on tiebreaking criteria, made the best of the situation by defeating Jessica Bershatsky of the Lakehead Thunderwolves 10-0.
Ashley Coupal (women’s 48 kg) and Amtoj Dhaliwal (men’s 82 kg) also won their matches via technical superiority by matching 10-0 scores.
Both were facing Western Mustangs opponents – Coupal knocked off Christine Grafe in the fifth/sixth match, while Dhaliwal beat Kevin Marshall in the seventh/eighth match.
“It’s a great way to cap off the year for the program, especially individually for Brad,” Bhullar summarized. “It’s exciting to be back at the national tournament, and to come home with a gold medal.”
The Cascades women finished 11th in the team standings, while the men were 13th overall.