Fresh off a displeasing end to a fantastic career as a North Dakota State student-athlete, Hayden Zillmer isn’t ready to hang up the headgear quite yet.
Wrapping up a winning collegiate career in mid-March, Zillmer finished high in the NDSU rankings with a season record of 32-6 and a career record of 105-29, putting him at seventh place overall in the NDSU record books.
Finishing things at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, Zillmer’s competitive spirit was in full force. He won his first match in the 184 bracket but dropped the next in second overtime.
When an opportunity arose just a few weeks later, though, Zillmer decided it was time to transfer his talents to Greco-Roman style wrestling.
Making a last minute decision to compete at the Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier, it’s obvious that plenty of Zillmer’s game plan surrounds his natural talent.
“I haven’t wrestled Greco in three years,” Zillmer said. “I decided I would wrestle last Tuesday, so I got to practice last Tuesday and Wednesday, then we kind of hopped in and wrestled on Friday. It was two practices in three years for Greco.”
But over the weekend Zillmer placed third at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials earning a spot on the U.S. National Team. Zillmer took a loss in the quarterfinal but took care of business in the 187-pound consolation bracket.
This isn’t Zillmer’s first time finding success in Greco style wrestling. He explained he spent two years at cadet level where he won Greco titles as well as three years ago when he won the university-level Greco tournament. NDSU coach Roger Kish was still surprised at the level of skill Zillmer brought with such a little practice.
“With the limited amount of training we’ve done in this style, it was really impressive to see what he’s capable of — especially on such a limited amount of training,” Kish said. “Just using his natural gifts and lifetime experience being able to go out and perform the way he did at such a high level is pretty phenomenal.”
Wrestling at 187 pounds, Zillmer is roughly in the same group as he was for college.
Though most would be shaking at the thought of a tryout that could make their lifelong dream come true, Zillmer kept his cool.
“It’s always been a goal of mine and a dream, so now I’m just trying to fulfill it,” Zillmer said.
When prompted about nerves, he replied simply “No, I’m pretty good right now. Maybe when the time comes I’ll be a little nervous, but right now I’m feeling pretty confident.”
Obviously a huge step for Zillmer personally, competing in an Olympic Trial such as this one also offers plenty to NDSU’s wrestling program.
“It’s a pretty special, pretty unique thing to see these young men go out and have success after college,” said Coach Kish. “It really helps our college guys and our recruits. The coaches and wrestlers here know that the foundation is being built on this level and if they choose, they’re gonna have opportunities to move on after college.”
Along with Zillmer are two other NDSU grads, including Justin LaVelle (2013-2014) and Kallen Kleinschmidt (2011-2013) who, though they are all former Bison, are all training at different facilities.
“It’s great, we talk to each other a lot. It’s pretty great that we have each other,” Zillmer said.
Nerves or not, this could be one of the biggest matches of Zillmer’s career — not that he’s worried. “I wanna win. That’s the biggest part,” Zillmer said. “The next step is just the beginning.”