After upsetting the top seed by major decision in the quarterfinals at last year’s Iowa state wrestling tournament, Bradley Hill was on an emotional high.
The excitement quickly dissipated.
Hill mustered only one point in his semifinal loss. He dropped another match in the consolation semifinals and another in the consolation finals to place sixth at 170 pounds in Class 3A.
Disappointment and frustration turned into motivation.
“I felt like that was the turning point in my wrestling,” Hill said. “It made me work harder, work with more of a focus and purpose and become a student of the sport.”
The Bettendorf junior went from what he calls a “semifinal slide” to championship euphoria in 12 months.
Hill (31-0) completed just the seventh perfect season in school history last Saturday night with a 5-3 win over Waverly-Shell Rock’s Luke Walker in the 220-pound final at Wells Fargo Arena.
This week’s Iowa Pacesetter joins Hap Peterson, Brian McCracken, Bo Schlosser, Fredy Stroker, Jack Wagner and Griffin Liddle as the only Bettendorf wrestlers to go undefeated for an entire season.
“I was looking to those guys when I was wrestling in the club here,” Hill said. “To see names like Fredy Stroker and 52-0, it feels amazing to join the ranks of top guys that came through this school.
“The blood, sweat and tears I’ve put into this my whole life and to finally achieve something I’ve been working toward feels amazing.”
Hill has been wrestling since he was 8. He has had varying degrees of success at state AAU tournaments, but he admits something shifted after last year’s high school state tournament.
He hit the weight room hard, adding more than 20 pounds to his frame.
He put more time in on the mat, going to Jefferson, Iowa (more than 3 hours from the Quad-Cities) once a week to work out with some of the top wrestlers and coaches in the state at the Sebolt Academy.
Then in the summer, Hill went to the Reno Worlds in Tulsa, Okla., and won a 19-man bracket at 200 pounds. He pinned three wrestlers and decisioned Waverly-Shell Rock’s McCrae Hagarty in the finals, a wrestler who beat him 8-4 the previous high school season.
“It helped me realize all this time and work I was putting in during the offseason was helping,” Hill said. “I think that win helped me a lot mentally and showed that I can actually do it.”
Hill parlayed it into a successful football season. The linebacker was the Bulldogs’ top tackler with 52 stops (7.5 for loss), earned first team all-conference and All-Metro honors for a defense which had five shutouts.
“That helped a lot mentally with my confidence,” Hill said. “I could puff out my chest a little bit more.”
After starting the wrestling season at 195 pounds, Hill bumped up to 220 once it was known Kane Schmidt would not be back for the season because of injury.
Hill beat Walker at the Midwest Shootout and followed with a win over Kalob Runyon of Southeast Polk later in the month at Urbandale.
“Looking back at last year, I kind of came out timid in a lot of matches and wasn’t sure I could be the kid,” Hill said. “This year, regardless of who I was wrestling, I was confident in my ability to go out there and wrestle my best match.”
His quick burst and mobility made him a nightmare for most 220-pounders.
“He wrestles like a light weight at 220,” Bettendorf coach Dan Knight said. “That’s why he’s so tough to deal with because his elevation and level changes are so fast. Guys aren’t used to seeing it.
“He is in and gone before they know what hits them.”
Hill, who weighs around 205 pounds, spent the second half of the season drilling and working out with Liddle about every day.
“Those two were a perfect match,” Knight said. “They gave each other exactly what they needed to be successful.”
For Liddle, it was a chance to go against someone with great precision and quickness. For Hill, it was facing the brute strength of a 270-pound heavyweight.
“I felt it in my shoulders every day,” Hill said. “I had to make sure I wasn’t reaching like I was a lot last year. Wrestling with Griffin really helps you hone in on your shots and finishes. It helps you finish quicker so he doesn’t sit on you, lay on you and hurt everything.”
At the state tournament, Hill had no equal in his weight class.
He had pins of 54 seconds, 1:50 and 3:58 in his first three matches before takedowns early in the first two periods of his finals match propelled him to a state championship.
“He’s smart, he’s knowledgeable and his wrestling IQ is high,” Knight said. “He listens well.”
Hill treated himself to a Hurts Donut and shamrock shake after winning the state championship. He was back on the mat Monday afternoon as he’s wrestling this weekend in the “Rumble In Arizona” Duals.
“He wrestles a lot and puts the time in,” Knight said. “He’s on the mat an awful lot and that’s what it takes to excel in any sport.”
Ranked among the top 25 in the country at his weight class, Hill realizes a target comes with success. He's ready for it.