A tough one-two punch

Brady Conlin and John Hildebrandt were former youth wrestling rivals. The two lightweights are now one of South Jersey wrestling’s best lightweight duos.

Williamstown freshman Brady Conlin wrestles Highland’s Krishon Davis to the ground during a match last Wednesday. Conlin improved his record for the season to 19-2 after pinning Davis in the first period.

It wasn’t long ago when Williamstown freshman Brady Conlin and sophomore John Hildebrandt were rivals on the mat.

“We always used to wrestle each other in youth,” Conlin said.

“Honestly, at the beginning of the season, we weren’t very close,” Hildebrandt added. “We’ve always been enemies kind of.”

Any animosity between Conlin and Hildebrandt quickly vanished at the start of the 2019-20 season. The two underclassmen have been a force for a Williamstown wrestling program on the rise. Conlin, wrestling at 113 pounds, and Hildebrandt, wrestling at 106 pounds, each picked up their 19th wins of the season last Wednesday against Highland and both have their sights set on making it to the state tournament in Atlantic City for the first time this winter.

“I want to get to the top of the podium,” Hildebrandt said. “I can definitely do it. I’m right there with the rest of the top kids in the region.”

Hildebrandt is hungry for a trip to states after a disappointing conclusion to his stellar 2019 season. Hildebrandt won 30 matches as a freshman last year and advanced all the way to the semifinals of the Region 8 tournament. After losing a tight, 4-2 decision to Clearview’s Ty Whalen in the semifinals, Hildebrandt needed to advance through the wrestlebacks to punch a ticket to Atlantic City. He came up short, losing to Kingsway’s Josh Palmucci in the wrestleback semifinals.

Williamstown sophomore John Hildebrandt wraps up Highland’s Nick Aquilino during a match last Wednesday. Hildebrandt has his eye set on making states in 2020 after coming up just short last season.

Reflecting back on regions, Hildebrandt admitted he ran out of gas at the end of the tournament. He came into his sophomore season determined to not let that happen again.

“I fixed that,” he said. “I’ve been running a lot lately. I’m right there with everyone.”

Meanwhile, Conlin entered the season with high expectations after a strong youth career. Two years ago, Conlin finished in third place at 85 pounds in the 2018 USANJ Youth State Championships.

“I always have high expectations,” he said. “The goal is always to win a state title. But first, the goal is to get to states. Get to AC and try to get on top of the podium.”

Both Conlin and Hildebrandt opened their high school seasons at the prestigious Beast of the East Tournament at the University of Delaware and had impressive performances.

As the 22nd seed in the 113-pound bracket, Conlin managed to reach the quarterfinals before losing to Brett Ungar, a 2019 New Jersey state champion. Hildebrandt was the 47th seed in the 106-pound bracket, but still managed to defeat two higher seeds before falling to the tournament’s No. 2 seed, Mac Church of Waynesburg.

Williamstown coach Jon Jernegan wasn’t surprised to see both of his lightweights have success after seeing them show solid technique and a strong work ethic in the preseason.

“He won 30 matches last year at 106 and he was kind of small,” Jernegan said of Hildebrandt. “We watched him wrestle in the preseason and he had good technique. I expected him to do well.

“(Conlin) is very composed,” Jernegan continued. “He doesn’t get rattled. He wrestles his match. He’s been doing very well. He had a very good tournament in that first tournament.”

Being on the same team has been a huge benefit for both Conlin and Hildebrandt. The former rivals have seen their relationship grow stronger as the season has progressed.

“Since we’re now teammates, it’s gotten a lot better,” Hildebrandt said. “We’re friends. We’ve developed a bond.”

“We’re the one-two punch,” Conlin replied with a laugh.

“They’re wrestling each other in the room,” Jernegan said about Conlin and Hildebrandt. “They’re working hard together as a team. They know what they need to do. They want the team to do well. We have the group playoffs to look forward to and then obviously individually as well.”

With the help of Conlin and Hildebrandt, the Braves are having a very strong 2020 season. Williamstown’s victory over Highland last Wednesday improved its record to 11-2 and put the Braves in a strong position with the South Jersey Group 5 playoffs set to begin on Feb. 10. Williamstown recently saw middleweight Jacob Carr return from injury and with wrestlers such as Tom Sherlock and Jashon Hitcherns-Aycox showing major strides this season, Jernegan has confidence in his team entering the season’s final stretch.