One year ago, Mikie Hartnett was preparing for his first state tournament appearance as a sophomore on Morton’s wrestling team.

Heading into the state finals at the University of Illinois’ State Farm Center, Hartnett was 37-1 in the 138-pound weight class.

However, he tore his ACL in the semifinals of the tournament and finished sixth place.

“It has been a long road since last year,” Hartnett said. “It took six months to fully recover from the surgery. But it couldn’t have gone any better. “

Flash forward 12 months, and Hartnett has proved that he is better than ever. He is now preparing for another shot at becoming a state champion in the state of Illinois.

Now a junior competing in the 145-pound weight class, Hartnett holds a perfect 29-0 record, including regional and sectional championships.

He isn’t surprised.

“I’m pretty confident that this is where I should be, so I am not surprised that I have got this far,” Hartnett said. “Telling yourself that you are going to get here and working for that goal feels good, but actually achieving it feels better.”

He credits his father for his confident mindset.

“I like to think that I have a winner’s mentality. I hate to lose,” Hartnett said. “I give my dad credit for that. He has always driven me to be extremely competitive in everything that I do. My record this year is because of that.”

However, Hartnett has flirted with defeat at his last two meets, due to tough competition from Washington junior Dalton Jansen.

At the Pontiac regional on Feb. 4, Jansen and Hartnett were tied 2-2 with five seconds remaining in regulation.

Hartnett earned two points as time expired to win 4-2.

At the Sterling sectional on Feb. 11, Jansen led 5-4 with five seconds remaining in regulation.

Once again, Hartnett earned two points at the end of the match to snatch victory away from Jansen.

With Washington’s wrestling dominance in the Mid-Illini Conference and at the state level, Hartnett takes a lot of pride in his success against the Panthers.

“I love all those (Washington) guys,” Hartnett said. “I train with them over the summer and I really like (Washington) coach (Bryan) Medlin. They work hard for what they earn and they get what they deserve. But, it is definitely fun being the one guy that they can’t overcome.”

Earning late victories to win regionals and sectionals has shown a lot to Morton wrestling coach Josh Prichard, who has high praise for the Potters grappler.

“He has gone through a lot to get back at this point and in his mind, he knows he can compete with anybody,” Prichard said. “He knows that no matter who he goes against, he’s going to be confident because of how hard he’s worked to get where he is at.”

Prior to the state tournament last year, Hartnett admitted that he was unprepared for the big stage.

“I let my nerves get to me a little bit last year,” Hartnett said. “The atmosphere is crazy. You are in front of thousands of people and you are wrestling in front of the best kids in the state.”

With experience from last year and a new mindset, Hartnett feels like he is a prime contender for a state championship.

But he knows that he will have to win four matches in order to stand at the top of the podium.

“33-0 is my goal,” Hartnett said. “This year, I’m not going to worry so much about what the outcome of the match is going to be and just go out there, give it my all and act like it might be the last match I ever wrestle.”

Prichard believes that Hartnett has what it takes to win state.

And the fourth-year coach can’t wait to see what Hartnett does this year.

“I’m excited to see what he is able to do this weekend,” Prichard said. “His goal is to be on top of the podium at the end of the weekend and we got to make sure we are focused each match.”

Hartnett begins the state tournament against Mattoon senior Jayvin Quinn (26-3) Thursday.

The state tournament runs Feb. 16-18 at the State Farm Center in Champaign.