Life has knocked Hayden Captain down before. But he always finds a way to get back up.

The Bertha-Hewitt-Verndale-Parkers Prairie senior heavyweight was inches away from seeing his season come to an end on Saturday as West Central Area-Ashby-Brandon-Evansville's Austin Mattson was inches from scoring a fall victory. The loss would've knocked the Raiders out of the Section 6A title picture and sent the Knights to the state preliminary round.

The Raiders upset second-ranked Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa in the state prelims to earn a spot in the Class A semifinal round. Much like the Section 6A final, it came down to Captain's heavyweight bout.

The Raiders have been to the state tournament each of the last three seasons, but Captain hasn't seen the mat. Before a season-ending elbow injury last winter, he was sidelined with a sickness in his sophomore year, which was complicated by his epilepsy condition.

"About two years ago, during the summer sometime, my uncle came down to visit from the cities," Captain said. "I was playing video games, and he woke up from a nap and saw that I was having a seizure. I don't remember much other than waking up in the hospital. They don't know what causes it, but I got really sick from it two years ago."

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Captain has since been able to keep his epilepsy in check.

"As long as the medication is in my system, I'm good to go," Captain said. "I've never had a problem with being over-exerted as far as I know. I just have to make sure I take care of myself."

Bertha-Hewitt-Verndale-Parkers Prairie's Hayden Captain wraps up Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa's Spanier in the heavyweight matchup in the state-preliminary championship in Barrett on Mar. 13, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)
Bertha-Hewitt-Verndale-Parkers Prairie's Hayden Captain wraps up Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa's Spanier in the heavyweight matchup in the state-preliminary championship in Barrett on Mar. 13, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

Raiders' head coach Bill Wagner has seen Captain at his lowest and watched him work to be a consistent wrestler in the B-H-V-PP lineup.

"That kid has been through a lot," Wagner said. "That's one of the things we talked about before the matches on Saturday. I told them it's going to be a Hayden Captain day. I told them to look at what this kid has been through. When I tell them about how hard it is to beat a kid that never quits, I tell them to look at Hayden."

Captain is on the smaller end of the heavyweights. He goes up against each team's biggest wrestlers in attempts to secure the final points of the night.

"Being a heavyweight this year is weird," Captain said. "If you would've told me before the season that I would be wrestling heavyweight for a chance to win these kinds of matches, I wouldn't have believed you. I just go out there and try to wrestle my own match. I can't think about what's going to happen if I win or lose. I try not to let the moment take me out of my head."

Even though Captain hasn't wrestled at state before this season, it hasn't killed his work ethic.

“They have a workout gym at their house," Wagner said. "He's been doing that along with some offseason stuff. The mental side of his game in trying to stay calm and focused and not getting escalated has been really impressive. We do a bunch of stuff with goal setting and talk about ways to improve that. Hayden has found a way that works really well for him."

Captain gets his final chance to wrestle at state starting Mar. 27 in St. Michael-Albertville. The third-seeded Raiders will take on Jackson County Central in the semifinal round with the state championship later that day. Captain plans to soak in the whole experience.

"In our last match of the regular season, I didn't get to wrestle because I won by forfeit," Captain said. "I remember thinking to myself how this is kind of sad that I'll never get to wrestle in the gym with my friends and family. Knowing that we get to continue at state is a good feeling. I can't wait to get there."