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Creason: Don’t underestimate Penn’s 112-pound ... girl

February 23, 2011

PENN'S GIRL — When Bellmont faces Penn in the first round of Team State Wrestling Saturday at Center Grove, Sarah Hildebrandt will likely be the 112-pound starter for the Kingsmen. She's shown above in practice. Hildebrandt's key fall helped Penn beat Jimtown in Team Regional. (Photo courtesy of the South Bend Tribune)

     (Editor's Note: Tim Creason is a former Decatur Daily Democrat Sports Editor who now covers wrestling, and other sports, for the South Bend Tribune.)

     MISHAWAKA — I know what you Bellmont fans are thinking. You look at Penn High School's lineup for this weekend's team state wrestling finals, and you see that the Kingsman 112-pounder is a girl.
     And you're thinking: An easy win for the Braves, right?
     Well, you just keep thinking that. Because that's what a lot of wrestlers have believed about Sarah Hildebrandt ... just before she pinned 'em.
     Here's the truth, folks: Sarah Hildebrandt is the real deal.
     The deadliest mistake any wrestler can make when he goes up against Hildebrandt is to underestimate her. I know a lot of guys who have done that. They all regret it, now.
     People tell me that when they see Sarah for the first time, they don't think "girl wrestler." They usually think, "homecoming queen." She's very cute.
     She's also very tough. In her first varsity tournament a year ago -- the Elkhart Memorial Invitational -- Hildebrandt pinned a couple guys, majored a couple more, and won the 103-pound weight class with a 5-0 record.
     A year ago, Hildebrandt became the first girl in Indiana history to qualify for an individual semistate tournament. This season, she became the first girl to do it twice.
     Sarah has been wrestling -- and winning -- since middle school. She has finished high in several national tournaments. She has been invited to work out at the U.S. Olympic women's training camp.
     Hildebrandt, a senior, takes a 13-6 season record into Saturday's match against Bellmont. If that doesn't seem like a lot, you're right. The move up to 112 this season was difficult, at first. The guys were bigger and stronger. For much of the season, she couldn't break into Penn's varsity lineup, despite repeated challenges.
     But a couple weeks before the sectional, the wrestler ahead of Hildebrandt was injured. She returned and made the most of her opportunity. She adjusted to the higher weight.
     Two weeks ago, Hildebrandt got a crucial fall in Penn's 37-25 victory over Jimtown for the team regional championship. The score was tied, 2-2, in the third period when she backed out from underneath, hooked onto a wing, and cranked her opponent -- Cody Koebel -- over to his back.  Penn fans erupted.
     "Just doing what needed to be done," she said.
     Hildebrandt says she doen't really care for all the attention she receives. She likes to win for the same reasons any other wrestler does; she's not trying to prove a point.
     "When I go out on the mat, sometimes I wish every eye in the place wasn't watching me," she told the South Bend Tribune. "I wish people wanted to see me wrestle, not just because I'm 'the girl.'"
     And she plans to go all-out to help Penn reach the state championship match this weekend.

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