By Ken Wunderley
Tri-State Sports & News Service

North Carolina State sophomore Hayden Hidlay began his second NCAA Division I appearance with a much different place in the 157-pound bracket.

Hidlay, a Mifflin County graduate, was the No. 1 seed in last year’s NCAA debut. He advanced to the title match before dropping a 6-2 decision to Penn State’s Jason Nolf, a Kittanning graduate who claimed his second title.

The 2019 tournament began Thursday, at Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena, and Hidlay was the No. 5 seed, while Nolf is seeded No. 1.

“It’s a tough bracket,” said Hidlay. “You don’t get any easy ones. When the draw came out, I didn’t really care. It will be a hard challenge for me to get to the finals again. That’s when I’m at my best, when my back is up against the wall. I got that chip on my shoulder and have something to prove. That’s where I’m at right now.”

Hidlay opened the tournament with a 16-1 technical fall against Oregon State’s Hunter Willits.

“It started a little slow,” Hidlay said. “I started picking up speed toward the end and started getting my groove. I felt good in the second and third period and was was riding well on top.”

Hidlay was just as dominant in the second round, and actually recorded the same score of 16-1, in his technical fall of Oklahoma’s Justin Thomas. In the quarterfinal Hidlay scored a take down in sudden victory over fourth seed Alec Pantaleo of Michigan 5-3 in overtime.

“I wanted to get it done then because I felt confident on my feet.”

“I just fortunate that I have this chance,” Hidlay said. “I feel like I’m hitting my stride, my peak. I’m ready to give it my all.”

Hidlay is happy the tournament is in Pittsburgh.

“This is the greatest place in the world to wrestle,” Hidlay said. “They are the best fans year in and year out.”

His family is also pleased with the site.

“My parents and family have been kind of lucky with last year’s tournament at Cleveland, and now this year in Pittsburgh. Both are within four hours of my hometown. The trip to Minnesota next year will be a little more burdensome. I’ve got a lot of fans in the crowd.”

Hidlay will have an NCAA Finals rematch with Nolf in the semifinals on Friday night.