Zach Hartman (left) during a wrestling match
Photo: Matt Hawley
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This spring, Zach Hartman ’22 (left) qualified for the NCAA Championship for the fourth time in his career.

Pulling His Weight

by Andrew Faught
Household objects weren’t always safe when Zach Hartman ’22 was growing up in Sewickley, Pa.

That’s because he and his brother, Mitch ’20, started their wrestling careers — at the encouragement of their father — in elementary school with “mad dog” matches in the living room.

“We definitely broke a lot of things,” Zach Hartman remembers. “We were always horsing around. It was a great time.”

But times have changed, and Hartman has turned his erstwhile roughhousing into a finely tuned game plan as co-captain of Bucknell’s wrestling team. Grappling at the 165-pound weight class, he mixes strength and speed to dominate his opponents.

Hartman is a four-time NCAA Championship qualifier whose Bucknell career is distinguished by his All-America performance in 2021. At the Navy Classic in November, he claimed the 165-pound title by winning all five of his matches; Hartman registered bonus points in his victories, netting three pins, one technical fall and one major decision. (As a junior, he was just the second Bison wrestler ever to reach the NCAA semifinals.)

Hartman’s secret for success? It’s all about adapting. He works to imprint that message on younger teammates. Being nimble is often as important as brute strength, he notes. Hartman’s role models include Jordan Burroughs — considered one of the greatest American freestyle wrestlers of all time — and David Taylor, who won gold at the Toyko Olympics and a Division I national championship at Penn State.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to how much you’re able to go with the flow when things don’t necessarily go your way,” Hartman says. “That’s when you have to adapt and overcome. Every time I wrestle with one of the guys, I’m always trying to give them tips and tricks on how to achieve that.”

In the end, though, Hartman has one overarching goal: “I want to have fun out there.”

While his father encouraged the sport, Hartman’s mother stressed academics. He approaches both with equal zeal. “When I’m in the classroom, I’m there 100%, and I don’t even think about wrestling,” he says. “And when I’m on the mat, I’m 100% there.”

A biology major, Hartman plans to attend medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon. Extending empathy to athletes encountering health hurdles will allow him to give back. “It’s the best thing I feel I can do,” he says.

When it comes to health and adaptation, COVID-19 has been a challenge like no other. The team endured meet cancellations in 2021. From a captain’s perspective, “I was trying to make sure everyone stayed on board,” he says. “We may not weigh in for three weeks, but we all needed to treat this like a regular season. It was hard.”

Hartman ascribes to a personal code, whatever the circumstances.

“I do my absolute best to be a better version of myself than I was yesterday,” he says. “That was my attitude going into my senior year. Of course, I want to win, but as long as I’m getting better every single day, then I’m happy with that.”

Instant Replay

Proudest accomplishment
“Winning the EIWA [Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association] title in 2021, especially because it was against the same wrestler I lost to in the finals the previous year. It showed what kind of character I had.”
Wrestling in the big picture
“I go out there with the mentality that I’m just wrestling another kid. I really try to have fun out there. That’s what I do.”
Secret moves?
“It would be nice to go into a match thinking, ‘I’m gonna go after this single leg,’ but that’s not the way I work. I just have to be ready out there.”
Life as a co-captain
“I base my energy on the team morale. If they’re feeling upbeat, I try to get them geared up and ready. If they’re tired, I try to get everyone hyped up.”