When Dustin Hatfield came up short of a goal, he became determined to work even harder.

And hard work was the bedrock of Hatfield’s prep athletic career.

“I’m proud of the work I put in,” said Hatfield, who recently completed a stellar senior year at River Valley High School in Spring Green.

Athletic participation — four years on varsity in wrestling and cross country and one season in track and field — had a longstanding impact on Hatfield.

“It made me who I am today — everything I do, what I eat, the workouts I complete,” said Hatfield, who received a scholarship to run cross country and track and field at Eastern Illinois. “It made me mentally tough. Nothing can knock me down.”

Hatfield was undefeated during the wrestling season, earning the WIAA Division 2 state title at 126 pounds in February at the Kohl Center; he won the 1,600 meters and placed third in the 3,200 at the Division 2 state track and field meet in June in La Crosse; and he finished third at the Division 2 state cross country meet in October in Wisconsin Rapids.

For his efforts, Hatfield was selected as the Wisconsin State Journal/WisconsinPrepZone.com All-Area Boys Athlete of the Year.

His cross country season set the tone for the championships that were to come. After working so hard during the summer and fall, his disappointment over placing third in a tight race among the top trio at state just added to his drive during wrestling season.

“That fueled the fire, I guess,” Hatfield said. “I worked a lot harder than before.”

“It comes down to the preparation and who is willing to work hard in June and July for something that hasn’t even started and doesn’t start until August,” said Steve Stettler, Hatfield’s cross country coach and the distance-runners coach during track and field season at River Valley. “After he finished third at the state meet, I told him, ‘You prepared like a champion. That’s the quality you have to have.’ Hard work is his biggest attribute, and for me as a coach when your best athlete is your hardest worker, it makes my job go much easier.”

Stettler said the fact the cross country result still resonates with Hatfield indicates the type of athlete he is.

“That it eats at him is part of his drive,” Stettler said. “It’s what makes him successful.”

Hatfield finished the wrestling season with a 41-0 record, defeating Aidan Medora of Delafield St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy/Brookfield Academy in a 4-2 sudden-victory in the final.

“That was the best feeling I ever had in my life,” said Hatfield, who finished as runner-up as a junior. “Four years in high school I worked for that. Some others on our team won, too, so, it was amazing. … Wrestling made me mentally tough.”

He wound up with a record of 168-18, the 168 victories second on River Valley’s all-time career win list, said River Valley wrestling co-coach Pat Mahoney.

“His work ethic was always there for wrestling,” Mahoney said. “He has wrestled his whole life. It hasn’t always been easy. There have been many challenges along the way. But through each challenge Dustin has learned and grown to make himself better. He is always pushing himself to get better.”

That meant many nights spending extra time after practice, sometimes alone and sometimes with a partner. No one worked harder than Hatfield and the work paid off, Mahoney said.

“Extra shots, extra running, extra stance and motion, whatever he thought he needed to work on,” said Mahoney, who called Hatfield one of the most mentally tough people he’s met. “He also was a very good student of wrestling. He watched many other people and was constantly asking questions regarding this move or that move.

“One of his favorite things to do was to tell (the coaches) that he had a new shot developed. He would then go on to explain it, in detail, to us. He is one of the best wrestlers to ever come through River Valley.”

His wrestling success bolstered Hatfield’s confidence entering track and field season, even though it was his first season in the sport. In prior spring seasons, Hatfield worked on his wrestling because he wanted to become an All-American freestyle wrestler, Stettler said.

But Hatfield’s path had changed when college recruiters showed interest in his running ability. Plus, Hatfield said he grew tired of cutting 12 to 13 pounds for wrestling.

At the state track and field meet, Hatfield outkicked his competitors, winning the 1,600 in 4 minutes, 16.69 seconds, edging runner-up Clark Otte (4:16.96) of Sheboygan Falls.

“With 200 meters to go, I was going to go get it,” Hatfield said. “I chased down Clark with 100 meters to go and I got him.”

Then he celebrated with Stettler, with whom he’s continued to run workouts this summer.

“I did that one for him,” Hatfield said. “We met after the race and he was pretty emotional.”

Hatfield, who finished his high school career with a third-place finish in the 3,200, now prepares to run and study physical education at Eastern Illinois in Charleston.

“I am really looking forward to the training program I have now and then getting down there,” said Hatfield, who just returned from a camp at Eastern Illinois. “The team is amazing. We are all already like best friends. I’m looking forward to running fast with all of them.”

Mahoney and Stettler are eager to watch how Hatfield does.

“In coaching, you strive to have your athletes grow as people and not just in their athletic capacity,” Mahoney said. “Dustin has done just that. Through hard work and determination, he has grown into an elite athlete and, more importantly, a fine young man.”

Stettler was impressed with the determination Hatfield showed in the classroom and in athletics as a senior.

“He transformed himself as a student-athlete and person this year,” Stettler said. “It was fun to watch. I think he found himself this year.”

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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.