Tom Miller: Hedgecock wrestling with success
Haley Hedgecock loves wrestling.
So much so that three years ago she decided to transfer from UW-Oshkosh to the University of Jamestown to join the Jimmies' women's squad.
The University of Jamestown is in North Dakota, some 600-plus miles from her hometown of Janesville.
Like I said, she loves wrestling.
“It was the closest school that I could compete at,” she said.
Haley, who is ranked fifth nationally in the 109-pound weight class, began wrestling in sixth grade. Even at that age, she was behind the curve of the Hedgecock family.
Haley's father, Mat, was a long-time youth wrestling coach and volunteer assistant at Parker High before his third-shift job forced him to give up those duties. Her brothers, Jordan, who is 29, and Wade, 27, both wrestled for the Vikings under coach Ron Cramer.
“It's definitely a family thing,” Haley said.
“I used to take Haley up to the state tournament,” Mat said. “We loved watching that.”
But Mat wasn't gung-ho about allowing his daughter to wrestle. He finally allowed her to begin in sixth grade, after a one-on-one basketball game. Haley lost and had to train with her dad for a month before wrestling.
If that didn't convince him his daughter could handle it, her first tournament did.
“She got beat pretty good,” Mat said. “But she loved it.”
Hedgecock lettered her first two years at Parker High with Cramer as coach. Cramer retired after her sophomore season in 2010, and Andy Tubbs took over.
At about that time, a shoulder injury cut short her time on the mat.
“I separated my shoulder at the end of my freshman year going to nationals,” she said. “It just kind of lingered on throughout high school.”
She finally underwent surgery before her senior season because she wanted to wrestle in college. That kept her out of her senior season.
Hedgecock has fond memories of her wrestling experience at Parker.
“At Parker, we had a lot of girls (out),” she said. “We had more girls out than the rest of the conference combined. There were at least five or six of us.”
And the guys accepted them—especially Haley, who knew most of the upperclassmen through her father being a coach.
“We were very welcomed,” she said. “Our team was very accepting of the girls. I never did (feel uncomfortable).”
First Oshkosh, then Jamestown
Haley enrolled at UW-Oshkosh, but only after she visited Jamestown and talked with Tony Deanda, the women's wrestling coach. Her shoulder still wasn't 100 percent, so she went to Oshkosh.
The shoulder responded to rehabilitation, and the itch to wrestle returned after two years away from the sport.
She informed her parents of her intention to transfer to the North Dakota school after her freshman year at Oshkosh.
“I was excited,” Mat said. “I don't think my wife (Laurie) was, though. She was more worried about the shoulder.”
But Haley was off to Jamestown, one of the few schools in the country that offer women's wrestling.
She won three matches her sophomore year as she got back into the swing of things. Last season, she increased the win total to 10. Now this year she is 18-8 at 109 pounds.
Deanda, who coached at Northern Michigan University from 2005 to 2011 before taking over the Jamestown women's program, said Hedgecock has been a great addition.
“She's done a lot of great things for us,” Deanda said. “She's a leader.”
GPS needed for students, meets
The Jimmies' women's wrestling roster includes students from Staten Island, New York; Chicago; Santa Monica and Van Nuys, California; Houston; Toppenish, Washington; San Diego; Traverse City, Michigan; Regina, Saskatchewan; Anchorage, Alaska; and El Paso, Texas.
Apparently, if you start a women's wrestling program, they will come.
Finding other teams to wrestle, though, is difficult. With so few schools offering women's wrestling, multi-team tournaments make up the schedule.
This season, Jamestown had meets in Fremont, Nebraska; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Forest City, Iowa; Marshall, Missouri; Regina, Saskatchewan; Las Vegas; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Lebanon, Illinois; and this weekend in Oklahoma City.
On Tuesday night, Hedgecock and her teammates were in the midst of a 14-hour bus trip to the site of WCWA College Nationals on Friday and Saturday.
The Jimmies are used to it. A trip to Saskatchewan takes 12 hours, Deanda said. Winnipeg is only about five hours away.
“Winnipeg isn't next door, but it isn't as far as a lot of them,” he said.
Hedgecock likely won't have to put up with many more of those bus marathons. She is now battling a muscle injury on the top of her foot. But with this weekend's national tournament possibly the final competition in her career, she is not going to sit out.
And her family will be there to watch. Mat plans to hit the road as soon as he gets out of work Thursday morning. It will be a 13-hour drive for them.
Haley, who made the Dean's List (3.5 GPA), is majoring in exercise science, with a minor in psychology, and has applied to both UW-La Crosse and UW-River Falls for their graduate programs in clinical exercise for cardiac rehabilitation.
She also found another reward by transferring to Jamestown. She met Austin Helmer, a D.C. Everest High graduate, who wrestled at Jamestown and is now an assistant coach for the Jamestown High wrestling squad.
They are engaged, and Haley hopes they can return to Wisconsin if she gets accepted into a graduate program.
Until then, she will finish out with the 14-hour bus trip back to Jamestown after this weekend's competition.
It's the love of the sport that put her 630 miles away from home.
“Hopefully, within a couple of years, Wisconsin or Northern Illinois will have a women's program,” she said.
Tom Miller is a sports writer/page designer for The Gazette.