ALL SYSTEMS GO
Hannigan on a quest for second title
Dalton Hannigan bounces up and down, testing his heavily taped right ankle.
He’s ready to take the mat and put it to the ultimate test.
That tender ankle, which was injured playing football, has conspired against him all season.
He hit the mat and dominated a pair of matches last weekend and another one Friday night. His season record is now 8-1. At this point last season, the Palisade senior had about 35 matches under his belt during his march to a state title at 126 pounds. He became the first Palisade wrestler since 2003 to win a state title.
The opponents who stand in his way this year also have wrestled about 35 matches this season.
Practice is one thing, but there’s no substitute for matches.
While resting and rehabbing his ankle, Hannigan has been in the pool, the weight room and on the bike. But he hasn’t been on the mat much.
The fierce competitor admits concern has wedged its way through some tiny cracks in his confidence.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “I’m always looking to be the best I can and do whatever I can to be the best.”
He pauses, thinking about his quest to win a second straight state title, this year at 132 pounds.
“I’m looking to repeat this year, but it’s going to be a tough ride because I don’t have the mat time that all these other kids have.”
The Jan. 30 match was his first since losing to Paonia sophomore Bo Pipher in a tournament Jan. 11.
Hannigan had missed much of the early season because of the ankle when he finally returned to the mat for School District 51’s Jackpot Tournament on Jan. 8, then made the finals at the Montrose Invitational, where he faced Pipher, a state runner-up in Class 2A as a freshman.
“It didn’t go well,” Hannigan said with an awkward smile.
Hannigan re-injured his ankle and was pinned in only 47 seconds by the No. 1-ranked 132-pounder in 2A.
Defending state champs aren’t supposed to get pinned in less than a minute.
“It was really irritating because me and Bo had some pretty good matches, and it’s always fun to wrestle him because we’re both pretty tough kids,” he said.
After a super season as a junior when he went 42-3, his right ankle has been his kryptonite this season.
“It’s one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever gone through. After a successful season last year, I’m just aching to get back on the mat,” he said.
Injuries have a way of leveling or tilting the wrestling mat. The Pipher match showed that.
There’s no sympathy in sports. Victory is all that matters.
There’s no doubt the injury has taken some of the bite out of the Bulldog. But, with a molten hot intensity, he’s excited and confident about the rest of the season.
His words also are laced with respect for his opponents. The kind of respect that only comes from wins and losses on the mat.
“He’s going to do great things this year,” Hannigan says about Pipher. “I’m excited to see how he does at state.”
The loss to Pipher is now a distant memory as Hannigan’s focus is only on his quest to repeat.
Regionals are Friday and Saturday, and Hannigan has a rugged path with three of the state’s top-four-ranked competitors in the Montrose regional, where Palisade will compete.
Again, respect shows when he talks about his rivals.
There’s Rifle’s Dallas Rohrig, who is ranked No. 3 and has dreams of a state title as well.
“I actually wrestled him in the semifinals in Montrose. He’s a good kid. It’ll be exciting to see where he ends up,” Hannigan said.
As he tests the ankle and pulls headphones over his ears, Hannigan’s focus is singular. He’s a defending champ and wants another gold medal.
Palisade coach Lonnie Tate says if anyone can do it, it’s Dalton Hannigan.
“He’s one of the most intense wrestlers I’ve ever seen,” Tate said.
In September, Hannigan will head to Marine Corps boot camp for the next challenge in his life.
“I’m excited to give back to my country,” he said.
The current challenge is the Class 4A 132-pound weight class.
His opponents want wrestling gold, just like he does, just like he won last year. They’re working just as hard in their quest for state wrestling immortality.
Hannigan tries to push the injury to the back of his mind, but there’s an ache and throbbing that remind him it’s still there.
“It’s always going to be rough wrestling with an injury because it’s such a physical sport,” he said.
With just a few weeks left in the season, Hannigan’s work ethic serves as the mortar to close those cracks of doubt. To succeed, it’s a combination of mental and physical preparation.
“Any time I have doubt, I just sit down and think about what I’m doing. It just gives me that drive, and I think about what I have to do to be successful,” he said.
He knows what it takes to be successful, but the injured ankle has detoured his quest. But it hasn’t halted the quest.
It won’t be easy, and he knows that. He talks about the thrill of winning the title last year and the torment of this season.
“It’s killing me this year knowing that I had the mat time I needed last year and I was where I needed to be,” he said, then paused to flex his taped ankle. “And I haven’t had the mat time this year.”
Hannigan smiled and again used the word “excited.”
“I’m not really concerned. I’m actually really excited for regionals and state,” he said.
It’s the next challenge.
The injury has given him a bigger challenge, more adversity. A second straight state title would be extra special, considering the massive amount of adversity he’s faced.
He’s excited, confident and ready for the challenge.
Will the ankle hold up? Will his conditioning be good enough? Does he have enough mat time?
For Hannigan, all those questions will be answered soon.
If the answers are yes, there’s little doubt he will be standing on the top step of the final podium once again this season.