Gazette Preps 2017-18 Wrestling Lower Weights Peak Performer of the Year: Jason Hanenberg, Air Academy

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Photo - A photo illustration of Jason Hanenberg is the Lower Weights Peak Performer of the Year as he wrestled in the 132 lb weight class. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

A photo illustration of Jason Hanenberg is the Lower Weights Peak Performer of the Year as he wrestled in the 132 lb weight class. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

Before every match this past season, Air Academy wrestler Jason Hanenberg would find his grandma in the stands and hand her a necklace with her husband's ashes attached to it.

He'd then return to the mat and point toward a spot near his grandma.

This was Hanenberg's way of paying his respect to his grandfather, Wayne Hughes, who died from cancer last year. He always attended his grandson's matches until he couldn't.

But Hanenberg said he never felt like one of his biggest supporters ever left - even when he waited until the final second of his 132-pound championship match in the Class 4A state tournament in February to earn a reversal and a 2-1 win over Pueblo East's Aaden Valdez.

"He was there with me the whole time," Hanenberg said, referring to his grandpa. "It's not like I don't think he doesn't know."

In his fourth and final appearance at the state tournament, he became a champion. Finally. He finished his career with 151 wins, four state medals and the honor of being named the Gazette Preps 2017-18 Wrestling Lower Weights Peak Performer of the Year.

Hanenberg opened up the tournament with two straight pins. Then, it got a difficult. In the semifinals, he escaped with a 6-1 win over Grand Junction Central senior Dre Martinez.

In his finals match, he didn't make it easy for spectators who can't handle dramatic finishes. He was down 1-0 in the final seconds, and all Valdez had to do was keep Hanenberg in his grip.

THE LITTLE MERMAID

But that didn't happen.

"I had an inside cradle locked up and I went off to the ankle and broke his hip (figuratively) and got a reversal for two," said Hanenberg, who will join his brother next season on the Western State Colorado wrestling team.

Yes, it was a close win that could've gone the other way. But he managed to capture a moment he had dreamed of when he first arrived at Air Academy as a freshman.

"That's not how I wanted to exactly go, points wise, but it ended just the way I wanted to," Hanenberg said. "I still would get the same feeling if I went out there and pinned him quick. The feeling of being a state champion is just the same, so it overrides the feeling of it being a close match."

After the match, he raised his hand in victory and pointed toward the ceiling of the Pepsi Center in Denver. He was escorted off the mat, but before he was swarmed by TV cameras and reporters, he wanted to catch a glimpse of the 4A 145 title match -- which featured his cousin Zac Hanenberg of Canon City.

That gesture proved once again how he placed family first.

In the end, Zac lost his match but he said later he was happy at least one Hanenberg came away with a state title.

Though he had that goal in mind, Jason rarely talked about his aspirations.

"We believe that if you're doing the right thing and you're working hard and every day you're walking into that room to get better, things like state championships and wins will come with that," Air Academy coach Nate Hill said. "We believe that high anxiety doesn't equal high performance. I don't think I ever brought it up, really. It was about doing the right thing and working hard."

Jason Hanenberg always knew he'd find his way.