For Pitts Jake Wentzel, way of life changes result in success on the mat

Jake Wentzel joined Pitt as Recruit # 40 in the 2016 Recruiting Class. The South Park graduate was a two-time PIAA champion, three-time regional and WPIAL champion, Powerade champion as a senior (when he set a perfect 42-0 record for the year), and second in the same tournament as a junior.

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Wenzel’s consistent success on the mat for the Eagles from 2013-2016 is why his name is listed in the South Park High School wrestling record book as the most successful wrestler of all time in program history. Wentzel racked up 156 overall wins out of just 15 losses in a South Park singlet, and at the end of his high school career achieved a remarkable 0.912 percent gain.

Wentzel competed in South Park under former Pitt star Tyler Nauman and also wrestled for his coach’s club team, Team Nauman, where he was a senior Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic participant with 160 pounds for Team Pennsylvania. With that being said, it really came as no surprise that Wentzel followed in his trainer’s footsteps and selected Pitt as the place where he wanted to promote both his education and his wrestling career.

Jake Wentzel November 15, 2019 – David Hague / PSN

What was surprising, however, was that the victories he could easily achieve as a prep grappler did not immediately advance to the next level in Pitt and Fitzgerald Field House. It wasn’t that the talent was gone – it was there – and it certainly is still today in 2021.

A string of serious injuries has prevented the Redshirt senior’s now 165-pounder from realizing his true potential as a college wrestler.

That changed during his 2020 Redshirt junior season. Wentzel stayed healthy for a full season for the first time in his college career. On the way to crowning the 2020 ACC champion at 165 pounds, he set an 18-7 record and qualified as a panther for NCAAs for the first time.

“The main adjustment was just my lifestyle in general,” said Wentzel of the changes he made before the breakout season last year. “I had to start taking things more seriously. The biggest thing was staying healthy all year round, making sure my diet was good and my weight was checked. I’ve trained as smartly as possible, not necessarily as hard as possible, to make sure I can do a full season. “

While the 2020 campaign ended as Wentzel had hoped. In all fairness, it didn’t end up the way anyone in the wrestling world had imagined. Just one day after the full field was announced for the 2020 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships to be held in Minneapolis on March 12, the NCAA canceled all remaining NCAA championships for the winter and spring, including wrestling, amid growing concerns over the COVID- 19 pandemic.

Wenceslas season may have ended abruptly, but he still ended 2020 on a strong note. Pitt head coach Keith Gavin said in a post-game interview at ACCs that his 165-pounder had an “outstanding performance” in his run for the 2020 ACC crown as number 4, including two top 10 wins.

Wenzel’s path to the ACC tournament finals began with a dominant 8-1 decision against Dukes Ben Anderson in the quarterfinals. He then advanced to the semi-finals to face Kennedy Monday No. 1 in North Carolina. Wentzel stayed 2-0 in the final and won the 3-2 to reach the final.

In the final, the last game of his junior season, Wentzel was in the three-time All-American David McFadden of Virginia Tech in front of number 3. Wentzel fell 1-0 in the first game, scored a takedown in the second and took the lead. He ended the fight with a powerful ride from McFadden to secure the driving time and take the ACC title 3-1.

Jake Wentzel February 22, 2020 – David Hague / PSN

“I thought I was strong upstairs, he (McFadden) doesn’t want to be downstairs. He wanted a chance to finish the match on his feet and I didn’t give it to him. “Wentzel said after the game he was riding out of McFadden.

Wentzel was able to avenge earlier dual meet losses for both Monday and McFadden. He had hoped that his first trip to NCAAs would give him the opportunity to avenge another previous loss, that to NC State’s Thomas Bullard.

Although coronavirus took Wentzel that chance in 2020 to get revenge on NC State’s opponent, Wentzel is likely to have multiple chances against Bullard this season. The two should compete against each other in a team dual in Raleigh, ACCs and possibly NCAAs.

“I’ve been told I’ve smiled more (at ACCs) than ever before in my life, so I must have done something right,” said Wentzel after winning the title on his home mat at the Pedersen Events Center, not far from Fitzgerald Field House.

Wentzel, now a Redshirt senior, has three wins in his 2021 campaign and is still smiling. The Pitt captain has brought his momentum from last year’s conference tournament into this season.

In the young season, the native American from South Park, Pennsylvania is currently undefeated (3-0) and wins the top 10 against Tanner Skidgel of Navy No. 7. Wentzel’s is currently ranked as a top 7 by all major ranking services . His 5-2 decision over Skidgel (with minutes driving time) helped Pitt to an 11-point win from behind, Pitt’s first of 2021.

His notable victory at Annapolis Alumni Hall resulted in Wentzel being named the first Atlantic Coast Conference wrestler of the week of the 2021 season for the first time in his college career. He was also The Open Mat’s National College Wrestler of the Week, but Wentzel wasn’t keen on the awards.

“(It was) pretty good luck,” said Wentzel of these awards. “There wasn’t much going on in the sports world. ACC-wise and Pitt-wise, I was the only person who had a matchup. So I was a little lucky. “

The 165 pounder went on to say it was just a game and it’s still very early so he doesn’t read too much about the individual win or the awards.

Part of the reason Wentzel was able to shoot all the cylinders for his # 12 Panther is because his off-season training routine (thanks to his high school coach Nauman) wasn’t lost to COVID-19, as was the harrowing reality for many others NCAA grappler.

“My high school wrestling coach, he (Nauman), has his own (wrestling) room (with the Nauman Wrestling Club team) and he gave me the code to get into that room,” said Wentzel. “I would bring some of my friends and roommates here in Pitt and we would normally train (on) the same schedule that we would normally have in Pitt.”

Wentzel, like many athletes who tried to train in times of a global pandemic, also had to use improvisation to train. In Wenceslas case, this meant moving his father’s home fitness equipment to his school apartment.

Jake Wentzel February 22, 2020 – David Hague / PSN

While the NWCA All-American 2020 recognizes that it’s too early in the season to really assess exactly why he’s been so successful so far, it believes it might have something to do with being a solid “three position wrestler ” to be.

“It’s too early to say, but I’m pretty good at the front and hard to score on my feet. And downstairs I keep wrestling, I explode and escape, ”said Wentzel. “So there are still a few things to work on. But from now on I just feel like a three-position wrestler and I value every period, not just one aspect of the sport (important to me). “

Only time will tell how Wenceslas’ viral senior season will play out, but his ACC title defense won’t be easy. On his way to a second consecutive conference crown, he’ll have to beat a handful of wrestlers Wentzel hasn’t beaten in his career, including 2019 NCAA Champion Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech.

Jake Wentzel November 15, 2019 – David Hague / PSN

No matter how talented his weight class is, both in the ACC and across the country, his goal for himself remains unchanged.

“I want to wrestle as well as possible on the mat,” said Wentzel. “It is not impossible to fight for a national title. The first goal, however, is to be an All-American. I’ve never wrestled in the national tournament so obviously that’s another goal of making it to the Nationals. “

The fifth-year senior (who plans to return for a sixth season in 2022) is currently earning a degree in accounting.

In the end, Wentzel realizes that he and all of his college wrestling brothers are lucky enough to be able to compete in the first place this year. Though he can take comfort in knowing that this season – however long it lasts – won’t be his last one in which he will struggle for blue and gold.

Still, Wentzel is ready to step up the intensity – as if every game this year could be his last.

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