Evan Hinebauch has always wrestled like he has something to prove. He’s always wrestled like he’s on a mission. In fact, the former Havre high standout has always wrestled with 100 percent heart, courage and determination. He takes no wrestling match for granted.
And those are just some of the intangibles which carried Hinebauch to his first collegiate national championship, which he captured last Saturday night when he beat longtime rival Michael French of the University of Great Falls for the NAIA 184-pound championship in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The win was the culmination of a storied rivalry between Hinebauch and French. And while Hinebauch managed just three wins in three years against French in college, their last dance was the one that mattered most.
“All of our matches have been great,” Hinebauch said. “They have all been really close. I’ve only beaten him three times, but all the matches have been great, closes matches, battles to the end. After I won the championship, it was pretty emotionally, and I was exhausted. I could hardly lift my arms or reach up just to shake his hand. We both gave it everything we had in that match, and it was a great way to end things between us.”
And the rivalry is over now, as French will leave the UGF program as the winningest wrestler in Argo in history. But Hinebauch, just a junior at MSU-N, still has more to do. He’ll have a chance to win a repeat national championship next spring – something that’s never easy to do. But now, the Northern great can enjoy the moment, and enjoy it he is. Hinebauch dominated the first two rounds of this year’s NAIA tournament, winning by pin in both matches. In Friday’s semifinals, he fought through a tough match against Southern Oregon’s Derek Rottenburg, and it all culminated with Saturday’s 5-3 sudden victory overtime win over French.
“I wrestled as well as I could and got through the first matches,” Hinebauch said. “Then, when I got to the championship, I only had one goal in mind. It was a close match all the way through, a battle to the death it felt like. And when it got to the end, I just pushed as hard as I could, gave it everything I had and I ended up coming out on top.”
It was a crowning moment for Hinebauch, who’s had many. For Havre High, he captured three straight high school state championships, and in his first two years of college, he has second-place and fourth-place all-american finishes to his credit. And now he gets to enjoy being a national champion, the 30th in Northern’s proud wrestling tradition.
And he’s also enjoyed the rivalry he and French developed over the years.
“There’s not a better person in the world to compete against, to wrestle against,” Hinebauch said. “He’s as competitive and wrestles as hard as anybody I’ve ever wrestled against and every single match was a battle. I have a lot of respect for him, and with that being the last time we will wrestle each other in college, it felt really good to come out on top.”
And on top Hinebauch is. He is one of the premier wrestlers in the NAIA. And he has a year left to get even better. But after beating French last weekend, and coming back home, where he’s been beloved for so many years, he also had a chance to reflect on where he’s been, before looking ahead.
“I’ve been able to think about all the stuff I’ve done to get here,” Hinebauch said. “All of the hard work, and the time you put in, it feels great to see it pay off. And There have been so many people who’ve helped and supported me to get to where I am. My parents have been a huge influence on my life and in wrestling, they’ve always been there for me. And coach Thivierge, he’s helped me a lot the last three years. The people of Havre have always been great, always been really supportive. It’s been great to wrestle here all these years, and this was a great way to end the season.”