Senior adjusts to wrestling with mask for Rutgers
On his way back to the center of the mat following a stoppage in action, Hayden Hrymack stopped in his tracks.
The senior brought his hands to his face, removing both pieces of his protective mask, putting one on the ground as he repositioned the other on his head. After no more than 10 seconds, both pieces of Hrymack’s mask were back on his head and he was ready to resume the match.
What seemed like nothing more than a few ordinary moments in the No. 12 Rutgers wrestling team’s dual meet against Maryland Jan. 29 was rather a microcosm of the difficulties the 197-pounder has faced for the past month.
Hrymack broke his nose in three places on his way to a sixth place finish — following a medical forfeit in the fifth-place match — at the Midland Championships in Evanston, Illionois, during the final days of December.
Despite sustaining the severe injury, the Point Pleasant, New Jersey, native has wrestled in five of the six dual meets since, sporting a black mask resembling those worn by basketball players to protect his face.
Hrymack has been forced to adjust to wrestling with a mask on as he entered the final stretch of his career as a Scarlet Knight.
In his match against Garrett Wesneski of the Terrapins, Hrymack led 6-3 with about 30 seconds remaining in the third period. It was at that point Wesneski began to throw his hands at Hrymack’s face, altering the position of the mask on his face and cutting off some of his vision.
Although he wouldn’t use it as an excuse, Hrymack said the mask has been causing him trouble, both in his vision and his mindset.
“It’s been difficult, not trying to use it as an excuse, but everyday in the room when you have that mask on, things get to you sometimes. You start playing a mind game with yourself,” he said leading up to his team's dual against Wisconsin. “But I’ve been lucky, we got a new mask instead of the old one that I was using ... when I (got) it off I (could) not wait cause it’s just been a month and a half now with it and I just don’t even want it on my face anymore.”
The new mask that Hrymack referred to made its debut against the Badgers Feb. 7. The hope was that the new mask would remain stationary on his face and not affect his vision.
Although the appearance of the mask wasn't too different from its predecessor, he seemed to have no trouble with it as he built a 5-1 lead in the second period and held on for a 7-4 win over Eric Peissig.
Although the new mask has yet to have a negative effect on his vision and overall performance, Hrymack is looking forward to do the day that he can wrestle without it and despite the mask’s unique appearance, grapplers who have worn it before certainly don’t consider it to be a neat accessory.
“In high school, I kept getting a lot of bloody noses and I had to wear one of them,” said sophomore 141-pounder Anthony Ashnault. “It’s not fun and it’s a big distraction on your face. It’s tough to keep your mental state of mind when you’re wearing that thing and people are poking at it and it wears you down ... So I’m sure he wants to rip that thing off. He’s a tough kid for wearing it and sticking through it. Wrestling with a broken nose is no easy thing.”
In his true senior season — something rarely seen in collegiate wrestling — Hrymack has tallied a 10-7 record in duals and a 13-9 record overall. In his four years on the Banks, he has compiled a 52-52 record overall.
The one thing missing from the masked wrestler’s career is a trip to the NCAA Championships. In the first of four NCAA coaches’ panel rankings — one of the few things taken into consideration when NCAA qualifications are awarded — Hrymack was the lone member of the Knights’ starting lineup who was not represented in his respective weight class.
Head coach Scott Goodale said he would have liked to see the 197-pounder in the ranking, but he probably needs a defining win down the stretch to punch his ticket to New York City in March.
Hrymack still has chances to add to his resume with two more Big Ten duals remaining on the docket, followed by the Big Ten Championships, where he will also have the opportunity to clinch an automatic qualification in the national tournament.
Mask or not, Hrymack is trying to make sure that he’s wrestling at his best going into the Big Ten Championships to position himself to have a chance to finish his career at Rutgers while competing for a national championship for the first time.
“I think I’ve gotten better on certain aspects of the sport. Certain other areas that I definitely need to work on to have success at the end of the season, at the Big Tens, NCAAs,” Hrymack said. “I feel like as a whole, I’ve grown a lot since my other three years that I’ve been here. Doing everything right, correct all the little things in order to make sure come Big Ten time and NCAAs that I’m able to make my mark for my last year.”