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WR Tri Newman/WH/Rockford 5

West Hancock senior Hunter Hagen's arm is raised after a win by forfeit against Newman in a triangular meet at Newman Catholic on Thursday.

Five matches told part of the tale of Hunter Hagen’s junior season at West Hancock.

Hagen became the school’s first finalist since 2001 when his coach, Mark Sanger, was himself crowned a state champion. But Hagen’s story came down to a battle that spanned the entire season vs. nationally ranked and defending champion Slade Sifuentes of Lake Mills.

In their five meetings, Sifuentes won all five times, including a technical fall in the state title match. Those were the only five loses of a season which saw Hagen finish 42-5.

But it was a moment after that title match that Hagen still carries with him this season. When the two were doing interviews in the tunnel at Wells Fargo Arena, Sifuentes walked past Hagen and said, “2018 state champ.”

“It’s motivation,” Hagen said of Sifuentes’ comment. “Anything could happen at state — I could break my leg, you know? But I just have to stay smart with what I do.”

Those five matches are also firmly planted in Hagen’s head.

With Hagen boasting an impressive resume coming into this season, he’s now that guy every opponent wants to knock off. He’s not close to settling, though.

“I guess that really helped me because he was the only one who beat me,” Hagen said. “I still watch the matches of me and him wrestling … so in practice I’m focusing on what I did wrong in those matches.

“I want to give myself a shot and improve because getting tech falled in the state finals was not really impressive.”

Hagen’s start to this season has been a hard one to judge because matches have been hard to come by.

Entering Saturday’s tournament in Britt, Hagen, who’s ranked second at 195 pounds in Class 1A, had a 14-0 record but only had wrestled six of those matches as the rest were forfeits. It’s something Hagen called frustrating because he’s not able to help his team in the way he’d like.

He added five more victories in Saturday’s tournament, including four by fall and a 7-3 decision over ninth-ranked Brock Meyer of Sumner-Fredericksburg. Add that decision to one over third-ranked (2A) Dakota Powell of Spirit Lake Park in a tournament at Okoboji and Hagen has had at least something to hang his hat on early.

“That kid (Powell) is a very good wrestler and it just shows that Hunter can wrestle with the best of them, obviously,” Sanger said. “It just reaffirmed in his mind what he’s capable of.”

Hagen said his ultimate goal this year is of course to grab that state title he missed out on last year, but he wants steady improvement on the way.

He’s helped in that way by a West Hancock lineup which includes some hammers from 160 pounds on up. That kind of competition in the wrestling room is something that excites them all.

At the end of the day, there’s nobody around questioning Hagen’s drive to be the best.

“Last year he didn’t finish where he wanted to finish and that’s all the drive he needs,” Sanger said. “We’re trying to get him matches and he hasn’t had a lot of matches yet. His drive is there and he wants to get better. He’s doing the things he needs to do, it’s just evident what he wants; he doesn’t need to say it.”

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