Karen Ortman is saying “I told you so,” and Will Ortman is happy about it.
Will, a Hopewell Valley Central High School senior, enters this season as the defending Mercer County Tournament 220-pound wrestling champion and is looking to reach the state tournament in Atlantic City for the first time in his career. He’s coming off a 29-6 season in which he had 15 pins and qualified for regions with a third-place district finish.
For his career, Ortman is 55-18 with 27 pins.
She told him so.
“My mom always says that,” Ortman said with a laugh. “She said ‘I told you. I knew you’d be good. I always saw something in you.’ I’m like ‘Well, thanks, Mom.’”
Karen Ortman served as manager for the Ewing wrestling team in high school and fell in love with the sport. She insisted older son Zach try it and did the same with Will. Much like Zach, who also won counties, Ortman despised it at first but persevered and eventually got good results.
“I hated it at the beginning but she said ‘You’re going to stick with it’ and I’m really glad she did that; it’s a great sport,” Ortman said. “My dad (Steve) felt the same way. I started it; I just had to finish it. There was no way I was going to stop.”
For a while, there was no way he was going to like it.
“I hated waking up, going out at 6 o’clock in fifth grade,” Ortman said. “I had to go get beat up by some giant kid because I was always in the heavier weight classes and I was a little pudge ball. But it worked out in the end.”
Ortman began to embrace wrestling when he got to Timberlane Middle School, which has always been a strong feeder system to the perennially powerful high school program.
“I just got a lot better,” he said. “The coaching was really improved.”
Ortman missed the first two months of his freshman season due to a broken foot suffered in football. When he returned, his workout partner was senior Mike Markulec, who was en route to becoming a state place-winner.
“He was just beating me up, but that was a good experience,” Ortman said. “I got the feel of how to move in the room and how to drill with a state placer. That’s helped me a lot.”
In his first year as a starter, Ortman went 23-12 with 11 pins and considered that to be another learning year. He put it all together last season.
“Ortman’s gotten better every year,” coach Mario Harpel said. “He works great in the room, and you would expect that type of growth just based on how hard he works. I’m excited to see him wrestle this year and compete even at a higher level.”
Ortman’s assessment of himself as a young wrestler is not felicitous. “I wasn’t very good on top, I wasn’t good on bottom, or in neutral,” he said.
Now, though, he is being touted as a potential state qualifier by his coach. “He definitely has the ability and desire,” Harpel said. “He’s put the work in long ago, so he has all the right attributes. It’s a matter of staying healthy for the year and when that time comes, you have to be ready to compete.”
Harpel notes that Ortman has gotten much better on his feet over the years. The coach also feels he has a distinct advantage on top, as he is able to work hard in that position and wear down his opponent. Ortman does it all in a business-like manner.
“He certainly does not wear his emotions on his sleeve,” Harpel said. “I’m sure there’s emotion inside that you just don’t see. He’s an extremely intense kid but he’ll do it quietly. You won’t see him make a spectacle of the situation. He’s a great figurehead. He represents Hopewell Valley wrestling really well.”
Ortman said there is no other program he would rather represent, except for maybe The College of New Jersey, which is where he has applied and hopes to wrestle collegiately. The Bulldogs have won six straight Mercer County Tournament team titles and have long been the class of the county in ways other than just winning.
“We wrestle for each other, we wrestle for Hopewell Valley,” Ortman said. “We don’t wrestle to win 100 matches, we wrestle to go win the Group III section as a team.”
It’s a philosophy that Ortman absolutely loves while doing a sport that he came to love.
And while Karen hates to say it—then again, maybe she doesn’t—she told him so.