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Sports

Wrestling: Willowbrook's Jack Jessen hungry for missing ingredient in Champaign

Northwestern recruit searching for state title to cap off his storied career

Willowbrook's Jack Jessen (left) tries to throw Marian Catholic's Kordell Norfleet in the Class 3A 182-pound championship match. Jessen suffered his first loss of the season in the match to take second and finish the year with a 50-1 record.
Willowbrook's Jack Jessen (left) tries to throw Marian Catholic's Kordell Norfleet in the Class 3A 182-pound championship match. Jessen suffered his first loss of the season in the match to take second and finish the year with a 50-1 record.

He has already established himself as one of the most decorated wrestlers in the history of the sport.

But there is a hard-to-fathom missing ingredient to the storied career of Willowbrook senior Jack Jessen: an individual state championship.

The Northwestern-bound 182-pounder has a national championship to his credit —the Greco title – as one of eight All-American efforts the last three-plus years at the famed Fargo tournament. But Jessen suffered three of his seven career high school losses in either the finals or the semifinals of the Class 3A state wrestling tournament.

“I think about it every day,” Jessen said of his twin runners-up and one third-place result at the state meet in Champaign. “To come that close and not get [one state title]. I relive the things I could have done differently, the little mistakes I made.”

Jessen is in a customary spot as the last third of the season comes into focus.

After extending his season-long winning streak to 34 matches with yet another tournament triumph in Sycamore last weekend, Jessen is ranked No. 1 in the authoritative illinoismatmen.com rankings among large-school 182-pounders.

Jessen was 50-0 last season heading into his state-championship match, only to be denied by Marian Catholic senior Kordell Norfleet in the finals.

After concluding an equally remarkable football career at the Villa Park high school last fall with nearly 5,000 total rushing yards, Jessen is ranked third in the nation at his weight class.

Jessen has made quite a name for himself in the West Suburban Gold during his wrestling career.

“He’s not just good in the state but also nationally,” Hinsdale South coach Bobby O’Brien said of Jessen. “He is so technically sound.”

“In my opinion, he’s the best kid in the country,” Addison Trail coach Rob Serio said. “He’s that good.”

“He is relentless,” Downers South coach Sean Lovelace said.

Jessen accumulates wrestling points like a pinball-machine phenomenon.

After averaging exactly 50 wins per season in his first three years, Jessen currently has 184 career wins.

Only four wrestlers have eclipsed the 200-win plateau in state history.

“It would be amazing to get to that 200-win club,” said Jessen, whose seven career losses have all come at the hands of eventual state champions.

In his 184 victories, Jessen has also broke the program career pin mark set by two-time Class AA state champion Mike Behnke. He's also become the first athlete in Willowbrook wrestling annals to exceed 1,000 takedowns.

“Those are the benchmarks Jack is looking for,” Willowbrook coach Brandon Murphy said of adding the career win total [201] to his legacy. “He is doing unique things.”

Murphy has twin agendas for Jessen as the Warriors have fallen out of contention for a conference championship.

Nationally-ranked and consensus state top-ranked Montini is also a prohibitive favorite to represent the area programs in the dual-meet team state series.

Individuality, thus, takes center stage for Jessen.

“That’s the stat we don’t like,” Murphy said of Jessen also finishing runner-up as a freshman and third as a sophomore. “His plan this year is to [win state] and get ready for college.”

Jessen inked his letter of intent to Northwestern during the early signing period last fall after orally committing to the Big Ten program as a junior.

Jessen also considered North Carolina, North Carolina St. and Stanford.

“I visited [the Evanston campus] and I instantly fell in love with it,” Jessen said. “I didn’t want to go anywhere else. Being so close to home, I get to represent Illinois and Chicago.”

But Jessen plans on a dress rehearsal at Illinois’ other Big Ten school before graduation.

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