| Conner Hartmann (Duke) attacking Morgan McIntosh (Penn State)
at the 2015 NCAA Championships. Photo: Simon Jimenez.
The Duke University senior has navigated the majority of his wrestling career under the radar, but after back-to-back All-American finishes at the NCAA Championships it will be difficult to keep Hartmann’s talent under wraps.
Hartmann entered college with one state title, one NCAA Division I offer and one big dream of becoming a NCAA champion.
“I came in with one state title from Washington state, which is not exactly the most prestigious of states to win.” Hartmann said. “I basically came in with a lot of guys that had way more credentials than me, even at Duke alone, and that was always kind of like a chip on my shoulder and my coaches encouraged me to treat it like that.”
When looking at college options being challenged academically was a crucial factor for Hartmann. Ivy League power Cornell University, led by head coach Rob Koll, was initially top of the list for the young Hartmann.
Cornell was unable to bring Hartmann on board, but Coach Koll delivered on another front. The Big Red headman made multiple phone calls to other well-know academic institutions advocating to give Hartmann a look. Among those institutions, Duke University.
The academic challenge and commitment to developing a contending wrestling program were reason enough to convince Hartmann to move across four time zones and the entirety of the continental U.S., from Washington to North Carolina, to attend college.
“I was really interested in a place that would challenge me academically as well as athletically,” Hartmann said. “Duke was the only DI school that I had as an option. Going there I met Coach Lanham and he sold me on vision of a completely new culture change and a program that was going to be built from the ground up and I bought in to it.”
Glen Lanham took over the Duke program prior to the 2012-13 season and placed a major emphasis on creating a winning culture on the mat and in the classroom for a historically struggling Blue Devil program.
“Coach Lanham wanted to change the culture at Duke because historically it hadn’t done very well and I think that is because it wasn’t treated like a priority. People were wrestling on the side almost. Even among the administration and other places it was treated like a club team. When he came to the university he had an entirely different vision for what it was going to be,” said Hartmann.
Entering a program establishing a new identity meshed well with Hartmann. The Duke program was overhauled under Lanham’s leadership, implementing a tougher practice regiment and no drinking policy, all the while pushing its wrestlers to maximum academic success.
“You’re held to a pretty high standard in every facet of your college experience when you’re at Duke. I felt with wrestling and putting a lot of pressure on yourself academically, they go hand in hand together. I came into it expecting a challenge and it more than delivered,” said Hartmann.
In March of his sophomore season Hartmann joined Konrad Dudziak as the only two wrestlers to achieve NCAA All-American honors for Duke University. He finished in fifth place at the NCAA Championships at 197 pounds.
“That first year that I did All-American it felt right,” Hartmann said. “I was the same guy, but it was a good experience because it did validate the hard work we had been putting in and to prove that people can do great things at Duke University.”
Hartmann followed up his spectacular sophomore season by earning a second All-American honor as junior. He made the semifinals of the 2015 NCAA Championships before falling to eventual NCAA champion Kyven Gadson of Iowa State and ultimately finishing in sixth place.
Although he finished one place lower than the prior season, Hartmann proved his mettle against all of the major contenders. He defeated No. 2 seed Morgan McIntosh of Penn State in the quarterfinals and took past NCAA champion J’den Cox of Missouri to overtime in the fifth place match.
“Even though I didn’t place as high as I did the year before I really felt I had a better tournament. It felt like I had improved from that previous year. Now this year I feel like the whole underestimation thing is probably not going to happen. That’s fine with me. All I really care about is at the end of the season I’m making a run for that championship,” said Hartmann.
Hartmann begins this season ranked No. 3 in the NCAA at 197 pounds behind No. 1 McIntosh and No. 2 Cox.
Last weekend, Hartmann launched his senior campaign in style. He put on one of the more dominant performances at the NWCA All-Star Classic by defeating Michigan All-American Max Huntley by a sound 8-1 margin.
“I thought I wrestled well. I was happy with my performance. I thought that there was even more room to try and do better but I’m still happy with it,” said Hartmann.
The Blue Devil was particularly pleased with the opportunity to cross paths with Huntley at the All-Star meet because he is the only returning All-American Hartmann had not faced in college competition.
Hartmann was the first ever Duke wrestler to compete at the prestigious 50-year-old preseason dual meet event.
“The All-Star Classic was something I had been hoping to be a part of. I didn’t really know if I was going to wrestle or not. Actually going there was a really cool experience. It was really important for Duke to have somebody go and put them on the map even more than they already are,” said Hartmann.
A strenuous wrestling and academic schedule are not the only major obstacles Hartmann has had to overcome while at Duke.
Hartmann has been diagnosed with Cystic Acne, an affliction that causes severe breakouts on the skin and can be problematic for a strenuous physical activity like wrestling.
Many note that Hartmann elects to wear undershirts while wrestling, an uncommon trend in the sport. Minimizing the effects of his Cystic Acne is the reason why.
“It’s landed me in and out of the hospital over the last few years. I had to try and work through that in order to stay on the mat as much as I could,” said Hartmann.
Moving forward, Hartmann has his sights set on overcoming the odds yet again and becoming the first NCAA champion in Duke wrestling history.
“It would be an amazing accomplishment. It’s always been my goal. I’ve never really cared about being an All-American. It’s great that it happened, but all I’ve ever wanted is to be a national champion. It’s important for me, but I really think it’s important for the coaching staff to show everyone that is not in our program the work that they put in and to show that it is paying off,” said Hartmann.
Hartmann will lead a talented Blue Devil squad into the team’s first competition of the season, the Hokie Open, this Sunday.