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Friday, Apr 01 2011 09:01 PM

Drillers' Hammond driven to be perfect

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    Bakersfield Californian All-Area Winter Michael Lopez / Special to The Californian

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BY ZACH EWING, Californian staff writer zewing@bakersfield.com

Darrell Vasquez is the only four-time state wrestling champion in California history, so he knows a little something about repitition.

Fitting then, that Bakersfield High's latest wrestling legend, Bryce Hammond, was warming up with Vasquez before this year's 160-pound state final at Rabobank Arena when it hit him.

"I said, 'This is exactly like last year,'" Hammond said. "I had a close semifinal match. I was the same color (Hammond wore a green anklet). I was wearing the same sweatshirt. Same guy I'm facing. I'm not superstitious, but it really was very similar."

And, for the second straight year, Hammond beat Oak Ridge's Vince Waldhauser for the title at 160, this time beating him 7-3, to finish another unbeaten season.

It's no surprise that Hammond is a repeat winner as The Californian's Wrestler of the Year.

"What he's accomplished in his high school career is amazing," said Bakersfield coach Andy Varner. "Three-time state place-winner, undefeated junior and senior year. It's something pretty special. He's the best kid in his weight class in the entire country, and that's pretty special, too."

Hammond backed up that national No. 1 ranking by beating No. 3-ranked Travis McKillop of Lower Burrell-Burrell, Pa., in the Dapper Dan Wrestling Classic last week in Pittsburgh. He also remains alive in this weekend's NHSCA Senior Nationals bracket in Virginia Beach, Va.

Hammond will take that status to Cal State Bakersfield next year, where he said he hopes to be just the third four-time national champion in NCAA history.

Before you snicker, realize that lofty goals are nothing new for Hammond. He was eight when he started the sport and was immediately struck by the power and precision of the top high school wrestlers.

"Coming in and watching Nathan Morgan, Jake Varner, Darrell Vasquez from those amazing 2002 and 2004 (BHS state championship) teams, it was ridiculous," Hammond said. "They would take a guy down, let him up, take him down. It didn't even look like they were breaking a sweat. I saw that, and it kind of inspired me."

Shortly afterwards, Hammond announced that he would be a four-time state champion.

"Everybody looked at me and said, 'You're crazy,'" he said. "I was a tall, skinny kid who hadn't grown into his body. I had those goals, and at no point I doubted that I would reach them."

Hammond didn't place as a freshman, but he was fourth at 152 as a sophomore -- with two tight, controversial losses -- and then didn't lose again as a Driller.

"In a way, I'm a little disappointed in the way it turned out," Hammond said. "My goal was to a four-time state champ. But overall, I'm satisfied with how I wrestled. The majority of the time, I wrestled to my ability."

He makes it sound ho-hum, but that ability -- and a work ethic and knowledge of the sport that Andy Varner praises -- earned him two state championships and a 74-match winning streak to end his BHS career.

"You could always tell he was good, that he had the ability to be great," Andy Varner said. "The ability was there, and he's worked hard for what he has and made the most out of it. He deserves everything that he gets."

All-Area selections list, B6

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