Former Havre Blue Pony Evan Hinebauch is a big-match wrestler. After all, the Montana State University-Northern junior has already been in an NAIA national championship match as a freshman, and has three Class A state championships to his credit in high school.
But on Saturday night in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, when Hinebauch stepped on the mat against UGF’s Michael French for the final time in their storied rivalry, the former Blue Pony great was in this biggest match of his life. And to no one’s surprise, Hinebauch came through with flying colors, beating French 5-2 in sudden victory overtime for the 184-pound NAIA national championship. In the process, Hinebauch became Northern’s 30th individual wrestling champion and the first since Cory Borges won his second of two 125-pound national titles back in 2009.
“I’m super-pumped for Evan,” Northern head coach Tyson Thivierge said on Sunday night as the Lights were making their way home from Iowa and the 2011 NAIA national tournament. “I’ve been with him for three years now, we’ve put a lot of time and energy into this moment. But in the end, he’s the one who deserves all the credit. He’s the one who has to step out on the mat and get it done, while I just get to sit in the corner and enjoy watching him wrestle. So I couldn’t be more proud of him and happy for him because he deserves this.”
Hinebauch breezed through his first two matches at the national tournament, pinning his first two opponents in a combined 4:01. Then came Friday night’s semifinal match against Southern Oregon’s Derek Rottenburg. It was a hard-fought match, but with French already into the final, Hinebauch wasn’t going to be denied, and he got by Rottenburg with a 6-4 decision.
“Evan was a little jumpy early in the tournament,” Thivierge said. “But as he settled himself, he really sharpened. The semifinal match was a tough one, but again, he calmed himself down and got through it, and at that point, there was no doubt in my mind he was on top of his game.”
After his semifinal win, Hinebauch waited nearly a full day for his date with French. The UGF senior, already a three-time all-american and the winningest wrestler in Argo history, had a 15-2 career mark on Hinebauch in college. But the former Malta prep star was still seeking his first national championship and Hinebauch had denied him the regional title two weeks earlier in Prescott, Ariz.
Saturday night’s match was also the premier match of the 2011 finals, the one everyone wanted to see, and while Hinebauch was seeded and ranked No. 1, it was French many prognosticators picked to win. But Hinebauch wasn’t to be denied, and he persevered under the toughest of circumstances, winning in overtime to capture his first collegiate championship. And it was only fitting that he did it against his biggest rival.
"It was a great match," Hinebauch said. "We both gave it our all, and I got the last lucky takedown and ended up on top."
“Evan stuck to our gameplan,” Thivierge said. “It was very similar to the regional match where he beat French. Evan stayed on the attack, really wore on him and it worked out.
“It was a great ending for those two, it was how it had to end” he added. “Michael is such a great wrestler, a great competitor and a very classy individual. And Evan is very much the same. So it was a great way for their rivalry against each other to end and I couldn’t be more proud of Evan for going out there and getting it done. It was really neat.”
Hinebauch’s victory was also a shining end to an otherwise disappointing showing for the Lights in Iowa. Northern scored just 57 points and finished in 10th place overall. MSU-N had gone in with much higher expectations, but things just didn’t work out that way for the Lights. However, Hinebauch gave the team a lift with his dramatic national championship, and now he’ll have a chance to repeat as a senior.