Brenton Hamm has made his mark on the Cornell College wrestling as a former Rams wrestler and current head coach. Hamm was a four-year starter at Cornell and two-time NCAA qualifier under the late Mike Duroe. He served on Duroe's staff for three seasons before becoming the program's interim head coach for the 2018-19 season. He was officially named the head coach in April of 2019. Last season, Hamm led the program to a 5-2 dual meet record and guided two wrestlers to All-America honors at the NWCA Division III Wrestling Championships. This season the Rams are 6-2 in dual meets and finished third at the Citrus Invitational and the Cliff Keen-Mike Duroe Invitational.
MatBoss caught up with Hamm and talked to him about this season, his team and coaching staff, Mike Duroe, Cornell adding a women's wrestling program and more.
You are 6-2 in dual meets this season. You have had some high tournament finishes. How would you assess the way your team has competed this season?
Hamm: I think overall pretty good. We seem to perform a little better overall in tournaments. I think partially it's the way we train. Maybe it's the thing our guys get up more on Saturdays. But overall we've been doing well. The guys work hard. We have a really good group. We have 12 seniors. Obviously, not all of them can start, but we have several that start. We just have a lot of good guys in the room that are working hard. That kind of help us get some of the results we want.
Casey Allen became Cornell's first Citrus champion since 2017. What do you like about the way he's competing?
Hamm: He's just tough as nails. He's a really good kid. He's always open eyes, open ears. He wants to get better. He really, really cares about wrestling, and he wants to win. He wants to be the guy. He wants to compete all the time. So we have to pull him back and say, 'We're not going. We're off. We're wrestling these matches and then we're off this weekend.' He's the guy that always wants to go, even if he's a little banged up, so just pulling him back sometimes, but that's good. He's ready. You tell him that you need this and he will make it happen. He's just kind of that type of kid. He's fun to be around. He has great energy. He's disciplined. I can't say enough good things about the way he competes and him as a person. He's a huge leader in our program.
Killian Perrigon has put together a nice season. Was runner-up at the Citrus Invitational. What does he need to do to get on the podium at the NCAA Division III Championships in March?
Hamm: He just needs to be more consistent. He can beat anybody on any day. He's had a bad loss or two, but he's lost to some really good guys. He's lost to Shilson from Augsburg, who's tough, twice. Hollingsworth, who's the defending national champ. Patterson from Coe. He kind of had a bad match. But Patterson wrestled a really good match and has had some quality wins. I think just consistency throughout. But right now he's in his zone. He kind of gets in his zone and we just let him do his thing because he's fun to watch. He doesn't have to worry about his weight. He weighs in and weighs out right around scratch. So I think just putting together some consistency. He's continued to work every single day at the little things he needs to tweak. He comes to the open workouts that we have. For him it's just building that consistency in his competition. We're excited for him. He's done a great job.
Freshman Cael McLaren placed fourth at the Citrus Invitational. He has only competed in tournaments, obviously. What has he shown you this season?
Hamm: Cael is a beast. He's a great kid. He has grown more this year than probably his whole high school career. He started wrestling later and he's just a sponge all the time. He learns as the match goes on. He'll get into a position to learn from that position and then fix it for the next time. So I've seen great things. He's got a really bright future. He hasn't wrestled in dual meets because we have a really good 184-pounder, Colin Honderd. But Cael's a freshman leader. He's going to be a big deal down the road. People are going to know who he is.
What's that dynamic like with having two very good wrestlers at the same weight?
Hamm: It's the best thing for both of them. Colin loves it. He loves that competition in the room. It pushes him he gets better every day, just from wrestling Cael and vice versa. They're great. Colin will sit in Cael's corner and coach him. Cael will do the same for Colin. So they train together all the time. They know that it's all about getting better. I think that's the best thing. What makes it so great is they push each other but they know they just need to train hard and continue to get better and the chips will fall where they fall. Obviously, Collin is a senior and a leader and has been around the block a while. Cael is just a fresh young guy learning the ropes. So it's been an awesome dynamic. There's nothing better than having competition in weight classes like that.
You wrestled under the late Mike Duroe and coached with him. What made Mike Duroe special?
Hamm: I think what made him such a good coach is he cared so much about you. Whatever he said was gold. You listened when he opened his mouth. You listened and you believed it. No matter what it was, you believed it. It didn't have to be the most perfect way to do something but you believed it. That's what made it special. He cared so much about every single person. You knew that in his conversation it was all about. 'How are you Hamm? How's your family? How's your sister?' He knew that you had a sister, or that she had a daughter and knew her name, or that your mom dad went on vacation. He just remembered everything. He just made you feel like you're the most important person in the world. I think that's Mike Duroe in a nutshell. I think that is something that is rare to find in anybody.
You obviously had a successful wrestling career at Cornell. When did you know that you wanted to be a wrestling coach?
Hamm: That's a good question. I didn't initially. I lost in the blood round my senior year. I just kind of had a tough match and wasn't all there. So that shook me up quite a bit. I didn't initially plan on coaching. I just planned on doing personal training and going to school for physical therapy. Then my high school coach who's a legend, Brad Smith, called me asked me to run the kids club at Lisbon. I was like, 'Alright, well, I don't know if I can drive up just for that and afford everything. Brad and Duroe talked. Duroe called about me becoming an assistant at Cornell. Then I started coaching. I coached for about a year as a volunteer. Nick Nothern was an assistant coach at the time. He just said something really nice, like, 'You could be a damn good coach someday. Then it kind of became a reality that I could do it full time. I stayed on staff and kind of worked my way up the assistant ladder. Nothern ended up leaving and the position opened, which was when Duroe hired me. I kind of fell into it and absolutely love it. I can't imagine doing anything else.
You have seen some of the top programs this season. You faced Loras in a dual meet and saw Augsburg at the Citrus Invitational. You will face Coe next month. Obviously, a lot has been made of the Augsburg-Wartburg championship streak. Who do you see as the team to beat in Division III?
Hamm: We try to pair ourselves up with all of them. La Crosse is a great team. You know Augsburg and Wartburg will have good squads come March. Coe College has been on the rise. They had a bad week at the National Duals, but they didn't have but half their lineup so they're going to be a tough out. Those are the teams in our area. And then you have the Coast Guard. There are some good schools on the East Coast that are always going to produce really good kids. But our regional right now is top notch. It kind of hurts us that we're all in the same regional because then you miss out on kids that can score points at the national tournament.
Your assistant coaches include Carter Happel, Matt McDonough and Matt Fields, among others. What do they bring to your program?
Hamm: It's awesome. I couldn't be more excited about the type of people we have on our staff. Happel is a wrestling guy. He wrestled in Iowa. He was at Lisbon. He's a four-time state champ. He knows a lot of wrestling, a lot of technical areas. He's young. He's passionate. He works hard recruiting. He's a good guy to have in the room. He's been great. Matt McDonough is hands down the best technician, just the way he runs a practice and structures things. He does a phenomenal job. It's great to have him. Fields doesn't get to come in every day. But when he does he's just a big heavyweight who has a ton of technique. Not just heavyweight technique, but things that work for 125-pounders and his energy, he's known as the guy that runs a practice that we call them short and sweet. But they're tough. But it gets the job accomplished in a short amount of time. So we have a really good staff and we're learning how to work together just because Happle's new this year. But that's not to say -- we haven't had any issues. I'm trying to maximize having Carter Happle on staff and Justin Crider and Tyler Ortman. And, and managing them in a way where they I can get the most value out of all of them because they have so much value to give. So honestly, I'm so blessed and fortunate to have the staff I do. Anytime they're running practice, I'm in there. We're all I'm learning things every day. And you know, our other coaches are too. So,
In late 2021 Cornell College announced the addition of a women's wrestling program starting in 2023. Thoughts on that decision by the administration?
Hamm: It was a no-brainer. It was something we wanted to do. Right around 2018 there was conversation when I was the head assistant that we need to start looking at this. We were kind of getting the plans together and then COVID hit. Vice President of Enrollment Wendy Beckemeyer and our AD have always been on board. It's just kind of a timing thing and then COVID hit and it was like we just need to focus on getting through COVID here. It's been a long time coming for us.