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MR TWISTER 10-21-2009 12:28 PM

Extraordinary Herbert learning International style
By Seth Schwartz
Special to Illinois Matmen

Extraordinary performances are the norm for Jake Herbert.

But the learning curve in freestyle is often a humbling experience.

After taking home a silver medal at the World Cup in Herning, Denmark losing to Uzbekistan’s Zaurbek Sokhiev 1-0, 1-0 in the clincher round at 84 kilograms, it’s fair to assume he will continue collecting a trove of trophies in the years to come.

He beat Germany’s Davyd Bichinashvili [who took fifth in the 2008 Olympics] in the first round. Next was Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov, Turkey’s Gokhan Yavaser and then Russia’s Abdulsalam Godisov [the current Russian national champion] to reach the final.

With an 0-5 mark in matches before the World Cup, it wasn’t clear if Herbert was primed for wrestlings top stage. But the summer training gave him the tools to succeed.

“We worked on a lot of technical things, but the two I thought were most important were improving his leg attack defense and his defense in par tier,” said his personal coach Sean Bormet. “We wanted Jake to have a high attack rate, scoring points in matches and to start and finish each period off fast.

Herbert’s progression wowed US freestyle coach Zeke Jones.

“We had to shake off six months of college wrestling and retrain old habits as fast as we could,” said Jones. “He had to defeat and beat the under-hook. The key to the tournament was being able to defend ankle lace and execute his offense. Jake had a good balance of over, under and around. From week 10-16 there were a lot of things he needed to work on.”

Training with the Russians in Baku for two weeks in mid-July gave Herbert a barometer of where he needed to be.

“I felt I wrestled real well against the Russians,” said Herbert. “I felt I was right on their level. It’s always good when you’re working with the best guys in the world.”

“Jake got a real good taste of what he needed to work on and he went to work,” said Jones. “The last training cycle we did a tournament simulation and that was the first indication that he was there; he had it in perspective.

“When he got to Germany his whole mindset changed. His confidence, determination and focus went to another level. Every wrestler approaches competition differently. Jake has a great sense of humor, but when it’s time to wrestle, he’s all business. He has a great switch.”

Stepping onto the mat, Herbert was ready.

“I felt very prepared; I was peaking at the right time,” he stated. “I was nervous at first, but once we got rolling and caught up in it; I just had to wrestle.

“My offense all came together. Guys who have been successful, stay on the attack. The Russians like to stand around and hold position. I knew I had to be physical. If I got them moving I could score.

“Staying in Colorado Springs over the summer was great. All the coaches were helpful. Kendall Cross showed me a high gut that worked real well for me. I was just building on what I do. That’s the best condition I’ve ever been in.”

Northwestern assistant coach Drew Pariano marveled at Herbert’s ascent.

“Jake’s technique has improved so much in the last six months,” said Pariano. “He’s finishing shots much better than he’s ever had. Sean prepared him perfectly. He had great leg attacks, developed turns on top and added a high gut. Freestyle is so much more tactical [than folkstyle].”

Oklahoma State coach John Smith knows the future is bright for the Northwestern graduate.

“We’re very excited about the effort Jake put forth at the World Championships,” said Smith. “Jake grew a lot in just three months; he has a tremendous upside to him. Jake has a lot of work ahead. He’s only going to get better from this point forward. I think he has a chance to be the best in the world for a long time.”

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