Air Force Academy cadets help lift Air Academy's wrestling team

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Photo - Air Academy wrestler Jason Hanenberg pictured during practice on Monday, January 22, 2018.  (Photo by Jerilee Bennett,  The Gazette)
Air Academy wrestler Jason Hanenberg pictured during practice on Monday, January 22, 2018. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Tanner Hahn’s day begins at 6:20 a.m. at the Air Force Academy for formation. He then gets a morning briefing followed by classes, then lunch, with military period after that and finally, he heads down to the Air Academy High School, where he helps coach the wrestling team.

Hahn is one of two current cadets and former Falcon wrestlers who are assistant coaches at Air Academy. The other is Evan Ulinski.

The cadets are in what is effectively their senior year at the Academy. Hahn will be in Charleston, S.C., next year, doing work in financial management. Ulinski will attend pilot training.

For now, the focus for Hahn and Ulinski is helping the young Kadet wrestlers improve their talent.

Air Academy has some great wrestlers. The Kadets placed seventh in a field of 26 teams at the Colorado Springs Metro Wrestling Championships, with six wrestlers placing in the top eight of their respective weight classes.

Heading into Friday's regionals, Air Academy senior Jason Hanenberg is ranked as the top wrestler in the 132-pound class in Class 4A, according to On The Mat Wrestling’s rankings. Junior Brady Badwound is ranked sixth at 160, senior James Benson is ranked eighth at 113 and freshman Bailey Badwound is ranked 12th in 4A at 120.

Hanenberg (24-4) and Brady Badwound (22-6) both wrestle against Hahn and Ulinski daily. Kadets coach Nate Hill said the two provide a college atmosphere for his wrestlers.

“They both just have a passion for the kids, they relate to them really well being closer in age,” Hill said. “They’re very talented wrestlers...We're very lucky to have them. They’re outstanding.”

Hahn said his team’s success is a product of hard work and compared winning a match to cashing a paycheck.

“Despite me being 220 pounds, I’m wrestling with a 160 pounder,” Hahn said.  “We grind every and I make him work for every point in the room.

"They grind in the room and they definitely win the matches prior to going out there, going out there is just cashing your paycheck.”

Hahn’s love of wrestling began when he was in kindergarten. He and his older brother found a school flyer for wrestling and they both thought it looked cool. He eventually became a two-sport athlete at Greensburg-Salem high school and broke the school record of most wins in a wrestling season with 45. He went to the Air Force Academy where he wrestled for a bit but was released after his freshman year due to injuries.

Despite the fact that he no longer wrestles, he seeks to impart his knowledge onto his team and in doing so he’s discovered another aspect of the sport.

“It’s absolutely crazy. My dad always told me that coaching is a whole 'nother aspect of every sport you have to learn it inside out,” he said. “I see the growth in these kids every single day, it’s so rewarding.”

Ulinski is from Elmore, Ohio and attended Woodmore High School where he earned 11 athletic letters, four in wrestling. He broke his school’s record for most pins and wins in a single season.

While Ulinski enjoys having fun with his team, he said he is impressed by their ability to get serious and get to work. It shows their maturity and dedication, he said.

“It’s really rare that we have three or four good quality leaders, they’re really mature for their age,” he said.  “To be honest at some points, you could just have them run the practice and I have complete faith that it would go well.”