Jarrett Jensen has never been one to shrink away from challenges. So, while Jensen is finding his first season as a varsity wrestler at Division I Northern Iowa to be a formidable undertaking, the former Rapid City Stevens standout remains committed to making the most of his college experience both on the mat and in the classroom.
“It’s definitely been an eye-opener for me,” said Jensen, a three-time South Dakota Class A state champion, following a practice session in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “It’s probably been much more than I ever expected. But to have some of the best coaching in the country has really helped. I’ve learned a ton in just one year and have been able to improve faster than I ever imagined.”
As a redshirt last season, much of Jensen’s first-year learning experience came in open tournaments where he compiled an impressive 25-5 record while capturing three tournament titles.
“Unless the coaching staff really figures you are ready to go right out there and compete for a national title, for most guys it’s not unusual to redshirt their first year,” the son of Rick and Janet Jensen of Rapid City said. “I had over 30 matches last year, so it was a good learning experience and worked out well for me.”
Despite last year’s successes -- and a win in his first match against a University of Wisconsin wrestler in his first varsity outing -- Jensen is finding the step up to the varsity level and competing against the best grapplers in the country a daunting challenge, and one that can easily test the resolve of a young man who expects only the very best of himself.
“I’m definitely not satisfied with what I’ve accomplished so far,” Jensen said of his 10-7 record at 165 pounds. “My expectations for myself are always pretty high and I’ve been pretty disappointed in my performance at times, but I just need to refocus and get back at it since it is all a process. I definitely feel like I have a long ways to go, but I feel like I’m getting better every week and hopefully by the end of March I will be a lot better than I am right now.”
Northern Iowa wrestling coach, Doug Schwab, who selected Jensen as part of his initial recruiting class upon taking over the reins of the Panther wrestling program last year, has no doubt success is right around the corner.
“Jarrett is very, very close to turning the corner,” said Schwab, a member of the 2008 U.S Olympic wrestling team and former assistant at the University of Iowa. “A lot of the things he’s had problem with, such as finishing shots, are very common for freshmen. I’m glad that he’s not happy with not winning all the time. That’s good and will only make him better, and as I said he’s very close and doing all the right things to make that happen. We are expecting big things from Jarrett in the future.”
While Jensen points out the transition from high school wrestling to Division I wrestling imposes plenty of physical challenges, he is of the opinion an even greater obstacle is a matter of mindset, convincing oneself that what worked at the prep level can and will work against college competitors.
“There are a lot of things, but I think the biggest adjustment is that you really have to be mentally tough at this level, much more so than at the high school level.” Jensen added. “You have to believe in yourself and what you can do.”
Though Jensen has no regrets about his choice of either college or sport -- Jensen also starred as a member of the Post 22 baseball program -- he does acknowledge a certain sense of longing for those days on the diamond.
“I just saw more advantages for me in wrestling than playing baseball,” Jensen remarked. “I don’t really have any regrets about choosing wrestling over baseball. I’m comfortable that I made the right choice, though I do miss baseball a lot.”
What Jensen has not missed is time in the classroom and dedication to his studies. He is studying biology – he had a perfect 4.0 grade point average as a freshman – and is hoping to pursue a career in the medical field.
“I’m keeping my mind open, but that is my ultimate goal right now,” Jensen said. “As I look back, I think I would make the same choices all over again. And right now I’m looking forward to learning from the mistakes that I’ve made in the past and avoiding making them again. No regrets. I just learn from all of the stupid things I do.”