BRISTOL, Tenn. – Earlier this year, King University alum Sarah Hildebrandt '15 earned one of the highest honors from USA Wrestling. Hildebrandt was selected 2018 USA Wrestling Women's Wrestler of the Year.
Hildebrandt had a spectacular year, finishing with a silver medal at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary in her first appearance in the event. That was only one of many medals the former Tornado wrestler won throughout the year.
"Last year, my biggest highlight was, no doubt, winning a silver medal at the World Championships," Hildebrandt said. "I've said it's been a goal of mine to succeed at the highest level since the very beginning, so it was nice to get a taste of that and prove to myself that I am on the right track. I am looking to improve upon that second place finish, as we go into 2019 World Championships, and the Olympics. I'm so grateful that I got to represent my country on the world stage like that."
She entered the World Championships seeded first after qualifying for the Senior World Team with a win over 2016 U.S. Olympian Haley Augello at the Final X. In the World Championships, she won her first four bouts to reach the final, but fell to 2017 World Champion Haruna Okuno of Japan.
"Sarah is so deserving of this recognition," King head women's wrestling coach Jason Moorman said. "She is an outstanding leader and representative for women's wrestling. We are very proud of all she has accomplished in this sport and who she has become. I love hearing from our current team how much she inspires them, and to me that is just awesome."
Earlier in the year, Hildebrandt won her first U.S Open title, again defeating Augello, and followed that with her third Pan American Championships gold medal in Peru. Hildebrandt took home gold medals from the Grand Prix of Spain and Outstanding Ukrainian Memorial, and also won a bronze medal at the Klippan Lady Open in Sweden. In her final international appearance, Hildebrandt finished fifth at the Poland Open last fall. She also competed on the USA Women's World Cup team in Japan this spring.
The journey started for Hildebrandt when she decided to come to King after being recruited by Moorman. She said. "I saw his vision and drive, ant it was more in line with my goals than any other coach." However, the decision to come to King was sealed by a game of wiffle ball.
"Some of the girls on the team, who ended up becoming my best friends, invited me to watch intramural wiffle ball on my recruiting trip," said Hildebrandt. "When I went to watch, I could just see myself there. I knew I could have fun with these people, that I could be myself. The whole feel of the school felt right, and by the time I left that recruiting trip, I knew that King was who I wanted to sign with."
In her four years on campus, Hildebrandt was a four-time WCWA All-American, taking national titles as a junior and senior. She was a WCWA runner-up as a freshman and sophomore. She helped lead the Tornado to the first two of four straight WCWA national championships in 2014 and 2015. Hildebrandt was also a member of the first two NWCA National Dual titles as the Tornado went on to win four straight championships.
"Being a part of the beginning of the dominance of the King women's wrestling program is special to me, being a part of every step of that process and growth," commented Hildebrandt. "When I got to King, we were such a young team but we worked our butts off. It took a couple years, but that's what makes it even better. It's been wonderful to see that momentum carried on after we graduated. That just shows you how powerful the atmosphere in that room is."
King has played a big role in helping Hildebrandt get to where she is today, a number one world-ranking and competing for world and Olympic medals. Not only in the wrestling room, but in the classroom as well.
"My time at King helped so much in my preparation for the future. First of all, I had really great and understanding professors that worked with my hectic travel schedule and supported me working towards this goal and still going to school," continued Hildebrandt. "I was also in the room with a ton of high level wrestler's every day. Each and every one of us in that room didn't just have the goal to become national champions, we wanted to become Olympic champions too. Being surrounded by such determined women everyday really elevated my wrestling. It made the transition from collegiate wrestling to Olympic level, much smoother."
That mindset comes from Moorman, who is always pushing his athletes in every aspect.
"Sure he [Moorman] taught me wrestling, but he really showed me grit and confidence," said Hildebrandt. "He would put us through the most grueling, outrageous workouts. They really had nothing to do with wrestling, and everything to do with showing us that we could do anything. We could push through and come out stronger and as champions."
"He also really believed I could achieve all my goals, even beyond his program," Hildebrandt continued. "He gave me the confidence to pursue them. That belief can carry someone a long way, and it really has for me. To have the confidence to walk into the Olympic Trials, as an eighteen-year-old, was because of the team I had behind me. Of course I didn't win then, but Moorman knew that we had to be at all these high level tournaments now. He knew how important they were to our development, both mentally and physically."
Hildebrandt has already qualified for the 2019 Final X in Lincoln, Neb., on June 15 at 53 kilograms. She will face the winner of the Senior World Team Trials Challenge Tournament in a best-of-three format.
"I want to say thank you to everyone who believes in me and who believes in women's wrestling," Hildebrandt finished. "The King University staff and students have always supported our women's wrestlers and that really allows for growth of the sport, as well as growth of the women who go through the program."