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Who's #1? CP's Mendez eager for another chance

Payback is rarely ever an option for Jesse Mendez.

When you lose wrestling matches as infrequently as the Crown Point junior, it just doesn't come into play.

It'll be different come Oct. 3 in Austin, Texas, where the two-time Indiana high school state champion hopes to get a chance to reverse not just one but two defeats, both suffered within the span of about a week in Oct. 2019.

"I've never wanted anything more," Mendez said. "It's what I've been training for. I've been thinking about it for (almost) a year. I'm excited to get a revenge match. I've been waiting for (almost) a year."

At last year's Flowrestling Who's #1 tournament in Iowa City, the then No. 1-nationally ranked Mendez lost 10-9 to Shayne Van Ness from Blair Academy (New Jersey) in a back-and-forth thriller at 132 pounds. A week later, in the Super 32 tourney, Joel VanderVere of Warren Township (Illinois) outlasted Mendez in triple overtime.

"I hold myself accountable for how I wrestled," Mendez said. "I want to wrestle the best to really I'm prove No. 1."

Last month, Mendez found out he'd be getting that chance when he was contacted about participating in the Who's #1? tourney again, this time at 138 pounds.

"My weight class is really deep," Mendez said. "They made it a four-man (bracket instead of two) to see who's the real No. 1."

Mendez will come in as the third seed and face VanderVere, a recent Northwestern commit, while Van Ness takes on No. 4 Jordan Williams (Tulsa, Oklahoma).

"I'm really excited to compete," Mendez said.

The pandemic has wiped out much of the wrestling schedule at all levels, significantly limiting the number of matches Mendez has had since winning the state at 138 back in February. Last August, he went to Sofia, Bulgaria, where he represented the United States in the Junior World Championships. He lost 8-1 to Farhad Karimli of Azerbaijan in the quarterfinals, then didn't get to wrestle back after Karimli subsequently had an injury default.

"I wanted to try to make another Worlds team, but they didn't have it," Mendez said. "All of the clubs are at high schools, so I can't go to any of them. I'm lucky enough to have a lot of college guys near me to come and work out. I'm training in small groups (due to COVID-19). It's almost all one on ones. I'll just text my buddies, we find a garage and we wrestle."

Last month, Mendez wrestled in the King of the Ring team tournament at Hammond Sportsplex, helping Indiana to a second-place finish with an undefeated performance.

"I'm always looking for matches," he said. "I go to (Region Wrestling Academy), but I know the owner of Elite Athletic and he asked me if I'd come and wrestle."

On the plus side (the scary side for opponents), the lull in action has enabled Mendez to focus more on conditioning.

"There's not too much to do, so I do as many workouts as I can," he said. "I'll do a 5 a.m. practice, then do another workout during the day. I stay pretty busy. I'm lucky enough that I'm staying healthy, so I'm working hard. It's the best I've ever felt cardio-wise. I can't think of feeling any better. I'm at my peak."


Two-time high school state champion Jesse Mendez will get a chance to reclaim the nation's top ranking in the Flowrestling Who's #1 tournament Oct. 3 in Austin, Texas. He will wrestle at 138 pounds. (Photo provided)


With colleges largely shut down for the spring and summer, Mendez's recruiting has been limited to phone conversations and virtual meetings with coaches. There's no sense of urgency yet, since Mendez is a junior, so he's hopeful for a return to social normalcy over the course of the school year. Mendez, who is 82-1 as a high schooler, lists Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Arizona State and Princeton among the many interested colleges.

"I want to take all my visits, make sure I get the right coach," he said. "It's affected the process a little bit. It's not too bad. I just wish I could see the campuses and go to the (regional training centers). I have somewhat of an idea, but I'm going to keep my options open."

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