By JARED BELL
Illinois Matmen

Jack Jessen welcomed the challenge.

Competing in arguably the toughest weight class at last weekend’s Dvorak Tournament, the 182-pound Willowbrook senior was eager to face the best.

“I knew there were going to be a lot of really tough opponents and that it’d be a really tough tournament, but I was looking forward to facing some really good competition,” Jessen said. “It was a great opportunity.”

An opportunity he passed with flying colors.

In a bracket that featured three future Big Ten Conference wrestlers, Jessen – a Northwestern recruit – beat not one but two opponents who are currently ranked in the top 14 in the nation by InterMat.

“Beating two nationally-ranked kids in one tournament is a huge accomplishment,” Jessen said. “I was really pleased with my performance. It was a great match against both of them and I was really pleased with the outcome.”

It was yet another standout week for the standout Willowbrook star and, for all he accomplished, Jessen is this week’s GO EARN IT Wrestler of the Week.

“We didn’t know too much about the field until about a week ago, and the kids who he wrestled, their teams weren’t in the tournament last year,” Willowbrook coach Brandon Murphy said. “When I got the email with the updated roster of who’s attending and started looking at who could be a challenge for him, I thought, ‘Wow, he has the best bracket in the tournament.’”

It didn’t disappoint.

After a strong start to the tournament, Jessen faced Wisconsin commit, Waterford (Wisc.) star and No. 8-ranked Jared Krattiger in the semifinals.

After No. 3-ranked Jessen allowed a first-period takedown, he scored the match’s final three points – including the go-ahead third-period escape – to pull out a hard-fought 3-2 victory.

He followed it up in the finals with a 6-4 win over Illinois commit, Althoff senior and No. 14-ranked 170-pounder Zac Braunagel.

“I look forward to the big matches,” said Jessen, who was also an all-state football player on Willowbrook’s 6A quarterfinal squad. “It excites me and fuels me. I see all these high-level matches online, and I always want to be part of it. I want to be in that action.”

It was Jessen’s third straight Dvorak title.

“It’s tough to go back to back like that,” Murphy said. “It’s a long day, a tough break in between matches and we just got done with finals (at school). The week beforehand he also came in at night doing different breakdown workouts. There was a lot of drain.

“Going in and beating one nationally-ranked kid would’ve been a big accomplishment but having the two wins back to back was even more impressive.”

While Jessen – who has a 4.2 GPA on a 4.0 scale – captured the title, he still hasn’t won the one title that means the most.

After winning four IKWF state titles and his first Junior Greco title over the summer, Jessen has yet to win a state title but has come painfully close. He finished second in Class 3A 170 pounds as a freshman, third at 3A 182 pounds as a sophomore and second at 3A 182 pounds as a junior.

“I think he’s kind of tired of being second,” Murphy said. “Some kids just take it and live with it, but he doesn’t give up and keeps working because he doesn’t want to feel that way again.”

Winning the elusive state title this season would complete his journey.

“Coming so close to a state title so many times really hurts,” Jessen said. “Getting second freshman and junior years were painful because of all the work I put in and how close I came. This year, I’ve turned that pain into motivation to train harder and make sure that I don’t come up short this year.

“If I were to win, it would mean everything. I’ve always dreamed of a high school state championship.”