Hartmann first-ever Duke wrestler to compete at NWCA All-Star Classic

<p>Redshirt senior Conner Hartmann received an invitation to the NWCA All-Star Classic in Atlanta.</p>

Redshirt senior Conner Hartmann received an invitation to the NWCA All-Star Classic in Atlanta.

Conner Hartmann had a text message from assistant coach Ben Wissel waiting for him when he got out of class:

"Would you want to go to the All-Star Classic if you could?"

Wissel knew Hartmann—a two-time All-American who finished sixth at the NCAA championship meet last season at 197 pounds—had been hoping for an invite to compete at the NWCA All-Star Classic for a long time.

“I called him and he [said], ‘Do you want to go? I’m just wondering if you actually do want to go in case you’re invited,’" Hartmann said. "I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ He [said], ‘Good, you’re invited.’”

Hartmann will kick off the season for the Blue Devils Sunday as the first wrestler in Duke history to compete in the invitation-only event, which brings together some of the top grapplers from around the country. The redshirt senior will go up against fifth-ranked Max Huntley of Michigan, a match several years in the making.

The 50th anniversary of the All-Star Classic will serve as a special start for the Blue Devils at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta prior to fall competition in the coming weeks.

Hartmann earned his spot in the marquee event after a strong season in a Duke singlet in 2014-15. The Port Orchard, Wash., native posted a 21-5 overall record en route to an ACC championship. In the preseason polls, Hartmann is ranked third and will attempt to become a three-time All-American in the spring for the first time in program history.

Reaching the podium at the end of year requires a lot of work and discipline in the offseason. Hartmann said stepping up his offense is going to be key to improving upon his success as a redshirt junior by putting up more points and being more dominant on the mat. Given the work he has shown so far, though, his leadership could pay off as well.

“I think it’s contagious, what he does. He leads by example,” Duke head coach Glen Lanham said. “As a captain, not everybody is going to like you, but everybody is going to respect you…. Conner is not only respected, but he’s liked as well—but he will tell you if you’re dogging it and you’re not doing what you need to do. He lives by example. Whatever he tells you to do, he’s done or he’s doing.”

The All-Star Classic serves as a test for Hartmann’s improvements in offense and leadership as he is matched up against Huntley, who finished his last campaign with a 24-11 record and an eighth-place finish at the NCAA meet, garnering All-America honors.

Although Duke has faced Michigan twice in the last three years, Sunday’s event marks the first meeting between the two grapplers in an in-season setting.

“[I wrestled him] right after my freshman year during the summer,” Hartmann said. “The next year, I went to Michigan and they held him out. I wrestled their backup. Last year, I was sick and I ended up not wrestling at the Michigan dual, which he was there for and he wrestled. So we’ve missed each other over the course of the last few years, but I’m excited to wrestle him.”

Hartmann's invite represents another sign of how far the program has come since Lanham was named head coach in April 2012, and the program is gearing up for another strong showing in Durham in 2015-16. To do so, the Blue Devils will have to absorb the losses of Immanuel Kerr-Brown and Marcus Cain—who represented Duke at the NCAA meet in the spring—as well as Tanner Hough, Dylan Ryan, Brandon Gambucci and Brendan Fowler.

Sophomore Mitch Finesilver and junior Jacob Kasper join Hartmann on the current roster as three of the five program-best five Blue Devils who reached the NCAA meet last year. Lanham now adds four freshmen to the roster—many of whom are likely to redshirt to get stronger and get used to the demands of being a Division I student-athlete—and a slew of sophomores to shore up his team’s lineup this season.

“We lost quite a few hammers last year, some really tough guys, but I’m really happy with who is stepping up to the plate because I feel like they can be even better than these guys who left,” Hartmann said. “We have a lot of young guys with a lot of talent and they’ve been putting in a ton of work and they’re really committing themselves to our culture here.”

After Hartmann wraps up his solo season kickoff for Duke, he will join his team in the rest of the fall campaign in the coming weeks. The Blue Devils will look ahead to their true opener at the Hokie Open Nov. 8 and the Wolfpack Open Nov. 22. In Blacksburg last season, Duke captured three titles, one second-place finish and had nine place-winners, before placing 11 wrestlers in the top six at the Wolfpack Open, with Kerr-Brown and Hartmann winning titles.

This season, the expectations are just as high.

“This is the first wrestler we’ve had...in the school’s history to represent us in the Classic, so we’re excited about that to put the program on the map,” Lanham said. “We’ve had a great summer. Our guys have put in the time. They’ve trained here.... To kick [the season] off with Conner to go out there and have a great win for the team—it’s an awesome start for the season.”

Ryan Hoerger contributed reporting.


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