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Jesse Jantzen

Jesse Jantzen is quite possibly the most prolific wrestler in Long Island history.  While at Shoreham-Wading River High School, Jesse compiled a record of 221-3, with all 3 losses coming prior to 9th grade.  Jantzen is the only 6x Suffolk County Champion in history.  In 1999 he became only the 2nd Suffolk County and 4th Long Island wrestler to win 3 NY State titles, and followed it up in 2000 by becoming the first wrestler in state history to win 4 NY State titles.  Jesse is one of 7 Long Island wrestlers to win the High School Senior National Championship; he was named MOW of the event in 2000 where he won his match in the finals by technical fall.  Jesse won the 2000 Junior Nationals and was named the 2000 Asics National High School Wrestler of the Year, become only the second Long Islander to win the Award.

Jantzen continued his career at Harvard University where he was a 3x NCAA All-American, a feat he was only the 2nd Ivy League wrestler to accomplish.  During the 2003-2004 season Jantzen went undefeated in the 149 pound weight class and won the NCAA Championship by defeating Zach Esposito from Oklahoma State.  Jesse was Harvardís first NCAA Wrestling Champion since 1938.  Jesse was the 12th wrestler from Long Island and the 8th from Section XI to win an NCAA Championship.

After graduating from Harvard in 2004, Jesse has concentrated on freestyle wrestling.  He won the 2005 University level World Championships.  Jantzen also took 4th place at the 2005 World Team Trials and 6th place at the 2005 US Senior Nationals. 

Jesse recently discussed his career accomplishments as well as his future goals with Bill Faxon, exclusively for the Long Island Wrestling Association.

LIWA: So what are you up to these days?

Jantzen: Iím still living in Boston; ever since I graduated Iíve been helping to coach up there.  Iíve basically been training full-time for tournaments throughout the year, the World Championships each year and ultimately the Olympics in 2008.

LIWA: One of the top recruits in New York, JP OíConnor, recently committed to wrestle for Harvard next year.  Did you talk to him at all in the recruiting process?

Jantzen: Iíve spoken to him because I helped coach New Yorkís Junior National team.  I donít know if I was a factor in his decision or not, I kind of just told him my experience at Harvard and how much I enjoyed it.  He seems like a great kid and heís obviously a really talented wrestler as well.  Weíre definitely excited to have him on the team next year.

LIWA: Another wrestler that looked at Harvard but ultimately went to Cornell was Troy Nickerson.  Last season a big deal was made of the fact that Nickerson was going for his 5th New York state title, which would break your record.  Did you ever speak to Troy while this was going on, do you have any kind of relationship?

Jantzen:  I donít know him really well, but I did speak to him.  I used to see him at tournaments where my little brother was competing.  We definitely wanted him to come to Harvard, it was between a couple of schools and ultimately he made his decision.  I think he would have had to take the SATs one more time and get them {his scores} up a little bit to get into Harvard.  We would have loved to have him, heís a great wrestler and a good student as well.  I liked him a lot.

LIWA: And as far as his 5 state titles breaking your record of 4?

Jantzen:  I wasnít really too concerned about it, I knew it was just a matter of time.  Records are going to be broken.  I was kind of focused on my career at that point and not looking to live in the glory days of high school.  I couldnít be happier for him, but it doesnít really matter to me.

LIWA: Speaking of the state tournament, and this is something that has impacted your brother Corey because heís been on both sides of it, what are your thoughts on New York moving to the 2 Division System?

Jantzen: I personally donít like the way that they split it up.  I think there are many better ways to do it.  Iíd rather them have one tournament but have more qualifiers from each Section.  I know Pennsylvania and other states have regional qualifiers where you get more fair representation.

Suffolk County generally has some pretty good wrestlers and there are some other Sections that are a little weaker and they get the same representation but their guys donít wind up doing as well. 

Iíd like to see it similar to college.  Depending on how you do the year before at the NCAAs you get a certain number of bids to the following years NCAA tournament.  That would be more efficient for the state tournament so more wrestlers get to compete, and the Sections that are doing better get to send more representatives. 

Right now there is such a disparity between the two classes because there arenít many small schools on Long Island

LIWA: Ultimately wrestling is an individual sport, but there is also a team component, a team score.  Your high school team at SWR never finished higher than 3rd in the Section XI Tournament, and your Harvard teams werenít among the elite national teams in college.  Do you ever feel you missed out by not being part of a championship caliber team?

Jantzen:   My freshman year at Harvard we had a pretty good team, we won the conference and beat teams like Lehigh but that was probably the last time in college that we were really competitive.  And my high school team was competitive in our league, but definitely not a national powerhouse. 

Thatís nice to be on a team where youíre doing well, but Iíve enjoyed all my teammates and Iíve been in some real good situations and I wouldnít trade the experiences that Iíve had. 

LIWA: Ivy League schools do not allow a redshirt season, so you only had 4 years at Harvard while many of your competitors wrestled for 5 years in college.  Do you ever think that if you would have gone somewhere you could have redshirted that maybe you would have a 2nd NCAA title, maybe being a 4x All-American?

Jantzen:  I wanted to wrestle as a true freshman even if I was going to a Big 10 school.  I think anytime that you are healthy and if you think you are ready than you should wrestle.  What happens sometimes is that you redshirt when youíre perfectly healthy and then the next year you get hurt.  I think I could have done better my freshman year regardless, itís a big adjustment, but I wouldnít trade my decision.  My situation at Harvard was really good for me as far as the competition, and Iím not sure that I would have done better anywhere else. 

LIWA: When you decided to go to Harvard you really didnít see a lot of top wrestlers, at least not in New York, going to Ivy League schools.  The next year, after you graduated, a pair of New York state champs signed with Cornell, then Matt Herrington to Penn as well as Nickerson and OíConnor to Cornell and Harvard, among many others.  Do you think you started a trend?

Jantzen:  Iím not sure.  Maybe guys saw that you can go to one of the better academic schools and still achieve your goals as a wrestler.  I think it has become a trend, that more and more of the top wrestlers are going to Ivy League schools.  I donít think itís just because of me; Travis Lee certainly opened some doors for Cornell. 

LIWA: Massachusetts in general isnít a huge wrestling state and Harvard has a long wrestling history, but maybe not the most distinguished history.  You became the first Harvard wrestler to win an NCAA title since before World War II.  Did people on campus notice, was it a big deal?

Jantzen: I got some interviews, some local TV networks.  They definitely recognized it and made me feel good about it.  They made a big deal out of it; I got a letter from the school president. 

LIWA: The school president is nice, but did you get a letter from Natalie Portman?

Jantzen:  I wish.  There was that rumor going around for a little while, she probably thought that I was a stalker.

LIWA: By the time you are a junior or senior at Shoreham Wading River you are, if not the best, certainly one of the best wrestlers in the entire country.  How did you get a workout on a day to day basis?

Jantzen:  My buddy Mike Torriero was right nearby, he was one of the top guys in the country.  He wound up taking 6th or 7th at High School nationals.  I would travel around a little bit for partners, but Mike was right in Rocky Point so that was convenient.  I would also go in on the weekends and go with some local coaches to get better workouts. 

Day in and day out you donít need someone that is going real hard with you or kicking your butt on a daily basis.  I had some good partners at Shoreham, maybe not someone that was going even with me, but someone I could get a good workout with.

LIWA: Speaking of Mike Torriero, your senior year you basically pinned or teched everyone that you came in contact with.  You won by technical fall in the state finals and the national finals.  You pinned or teched 6 wrestlers in the national tournament.  One of the very few matches late in your high school career that you DIDNíT win by pin or tech was when you faced Torriero in a dual meet.  You won by 14, one point short of a technical fall.  Did you take a knee late in that match so as not to tech your friend, or was the whole thing on the level?

Jantzen:  Youíre not the first person to ask me that, but I wrestled as hard as I could.  Mike wouldnít want that.  I mean, if itís 14 or 15 whatís the difference?

We didnít want to wrestle that day, but itís just the way that it worked out.  He was one weight lighter but his coach bumped him up.  You know how it is with Rocky Point and Shoreham, as far as local rivalries go thatís about it.  We wanted to win the dual meet, and if I bumped away from Mike we might lose. 

Plus weíre both competitive, and it probably helped us both out in the long run to get that kind of competition in a match.  But I wrestled that match as hard as I could have.

LIWA: You were part of a pretty special group of middle weights all on Long Island at the same time.  Aside from Torriero, you eventually wrestled Jon Masa and Mike Patrovich.  You never wrestled Ryan Maurer in an official match, but did you guys ever lock up behind closed doors?

Jantzen:  In practice we wrestled.  He was talented; he was every bit as talented as the other guys you mentioned.  Iím not sure what heís doing right now, I donít think heís wrestling much.  If he would have stayed with it in college he would have done extremely well. 

LIWA: Greg Parker was a lot bigger than you in college, he made the NCAA finals at 174 and was an All-American at 184, so people tend to forget that you guys actually met up in a NY State final in high school, a match that you won by major decision.  What do you remember about Parker and that match?

Jantzen:  He had a really weird style.  I always thought he was going to be good, but itís hard to say how someone is going to do at the next level; I didnít even know what I was going to do.  He had a really weird style, he was so flexible and long and he really honed in on those strengths.  It wasnít surprising to me that he did as well in college as he did.

LIWA: Your father was one of the coaches at Shoreham and youíve said that he was a big influence.  One of the other coaches was Paul Jendrewski.  Jendrewski recently retired, leaving behind a pretty impressive coaching resume.  While your father was the technician, teaching the Xís and Oís of wrestling, what impact did Jendrewski have on you and the team?

Jantzen:  He was a great guy.  Youíre right, my dad ran the practice from a wrestling perspective but J always kept everyone up, kept everyone in a good mood, kept it light.  Wrestling is such a long season and itís so mentally grueling, that itís important to have someone like J that would always make you crack a smile. 

Without him we wouldnít have had too many guys in the room.  Growing up everyone liked him, and people came out for the team because of him, because they wanted to be around him.  He would get you fired up before matches, but he also had that contagious personality that people always wanted to be around.

LIWA: You are the type of wrestler that people enjoy watching, because you are explosive, because you put opponents on their back.  Which wrestlers have YOU enjoyed watching as a wrestler and a wrestling fan?

Jantzen:  I like a lot of people.  Brian Snyder from Nebraska, who also coached at Harvard, was a guy that I liked because he was so aggressive.  I like guys who want to shoot and score the entire time they are on the mat.

I love watching Cael Sanderson.  Heís just constantly trying to score points.  If heís up by 14 with 5 seconds left against the best guy in the country heís still trying to score.  Even I have occasions where I think, I have the lead, letís stall this out and win.  But you never see Cael do that.  His relentless style is pretty impressive and pretty inspiring.

LIWA: Whatís the biggest win of your career?

Jantzen:  Probably this summer, winning the University World Championships.  I beat a guy that just took 3rd in the real, Senior World Championships.  Heís been really competitive on the international level for years and I beat him in the quarterfinals.  Winning that tournament was a big win for me and my career.

LIWA:  And in folkstyle?

Jantzen: My senior year of college, winning the championship.

LIWA: You beat Zach Esposito for the championship.  Youíve also wrestled Hofstraís Jon Masa on many occasions; they are ranked #1 and #2 right now.  Youíre probably as qualified as anyone to answer this; can Masa beat Esposito for the NCAA championship?

Jantzen: I think he can.  I think anyone can beat anyone.  Theyíre the 2 top guys in that weight class, so itís not out of the question.  Esposito has proven himself to be the top guy right now, heís definitely earned it, but Jon is as talented as anyone I know, and on any given day he could win it all.

LIWA: We talked about your biggest win, is there one loss in particular that bothers you?

Jantzen:  I get along with Jared Lawrence, I think heís a great guy, but losing that match in the NCAAs my junior year was tough.  I kind of thought that was my year to break through.  That loss in my junior year semis was probably the most disappointing one.

LIWA: You mention Jared Lawrence, who you are now competing against in freestyle, but youíve yet to beat.  Youíve had some success against Eric Larkin and Doug Schwab, but you havenít beaten Lawrence or Chris Bono yet.  What can you tell us about you and the other top freestyle wrestlers?

Jantzen:  Iíve beaten Frayer in freestyle once, but I havenít beaten Lawrence or Bono yet.  Iím knocking on the door, I think Iíve closed the gap.  The last time I wrestled Bono we had a good match.  I think Iím in the mix, and Iím improving which is good. 

LIWA: Youíve been at this weight class, 145, since your junior year of high school.  Has it gotten tough to make the weight?

Jantzen: In high school I didnít cut much weight, that was basically what I weighed.  Now Iíve gotten heavier and put on some muscle.  Itís gotten a little tougher; last year was probably my toughest year.  But Iím going to be strict with my diet over the next couple of years so it shouldnít be that big of a deal. 

LIWA: There was a thought for a while that you were better suited to folkstyle because of how good you were on top, your riding.  Do you think youíve adjusted to freestyle?

Jantzen: I think I have.  I like freestyle; itís something that Iíve been doing since I started wrestling.  I probably started freestyle first, because there are more tournaments than folkstyle when youíre younger.  They change the rules so frequently that itís not that hard to pick it up, because basically everyone has to keep going back to the drawing board.  Hopefully theyíll keep the rules more steady so at least the fans can follow it better.

LIWA: Do you see yourself staying involved in wrestling after your days as a competitor are over?

Jantzen: I do see myself being involved, but maybe not as a coach.  My little brother is coming up and he still competes, so I definitely want to be involved with him.  I want to help him out, coach him.  I donít necessarily see coaching as a career, but Iíll be involved with wrestling in some capacity.

LIWA: Will you wrestle past 2008?

Jantzen:  Thatís just what Iím focused on right now.  Itís kind of hard to say if Iíll be done or not.  Now that they have this Real Pro Wrestling, and depending on if thatís still around and how itís doing, Iím going to try and do that for as long as itís around. 

But right now my focus in on 2008 and the Olympics.