Sure, some wrestlers are good from the time they step on a mat. Twenty-one times over the history of the VHSL, wrestlers have won four state titles in four tries.
But more often than not, it’s a long, arduous grind in a sport that rewards experience and discipline at least as much as any other pursuit.
That’s certainly the path Western Albemarle’s Jake Jackson took. The Warriors’ heavyweight chose the grind.
The grind paid off Saturday at Churchland High where Jackson became the program’s first ever state champion, winning the Class 3 heavyweight title. The grind is why he was ready to meet the moment Saturday.
“I was nervous for it at first,” Jackson said. “But preparing mentally, I was just thinking, I have to wrestle my match and don’t let the past get to me.”
That past is two-fold. For one, as a freshman, Jackson came to the program and advanced to the conference tournament finals despite some early struggles in a tough sport. In the conference final, he broke his arm in a gruesome accident. Instead of letting that season-ending injury slow him down, Jackson got back to work. He won 31 matches as a junior and advanced to regionals, then as a junior, he went 40-16 and placed fifth in the state tournament.
“Jake came to every single off season lifting and wrestling practice, he never missed a single day, getting stronger and more skilled,” said Western Albemarle coach Adam Mulcahy.
The second part of his past was more immediate. Jackson lost to his opponent Tyler Michael of Fort Defiance in the state finals back in the Class 3, Region C tournament. In the semifinals of that clash, Jackson wasn’t as aggressive as he’s capable of being and fell in overtime. That changed when he showed up at the state tournament.
“I think I wrestled more aggressive than I have,” Jackson said. “I think last year (at states) helped me prepare. It was a big setting just like this year.”
That aggression and preparation showed in the results. Jackson, stuck as a three seed in the 16-team tournament, pinned his way into the title match with a pin of No. 2 seed Justin Hall of Allegheny, No. 1 seed Grant Abernethy of Brentsville and another No. 1 seed in Tyree Sutton of Booker T. Washington. That set up the rematch with Michael. Jackson won 5-2 over Michael, avenging that region tournament loss and securing the program’s first ever state title.
“The best part of all for me may have been the excitement from his team mates as they rushed to embrace him a a group bear hug after the match and lifted him up in their arms celebrating and sharing in the moment with him,” Mulcahy said. “A true testament to team in an individual sport.”
Jackson celebrated with his teammates, won a state title and made a little history in the process. That’s what the grind can produce.
That’s the moment you can find at the end of it.