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End of an Era: Jesse Jantzen

Male athlete of the year

wrestling team’s coach Jay Weiss can never say enough about co-captain Jesse Jantzen. And with phrases like NCAA champion, Outstanding Wrestler Award winner, three-time All-American and three-time EIWA champion used as a prefix for his name, it’s no wonder that Jantzen will leave Harvard as the most storied wrestler in school history.

But what has made the 149 lb. champ so special to the Crimson hasn’t just been his personal accomplishments. It has been his relentless drive, dedication and work ethic that have so endeared him to his teammates and which will make the Jantzen name forever synonomous with Harvard.

“He’s popular for a good reason,” said John Harkness ’38, the first and only other NCAA wrestling champion from Harvard. “He’s a very appealing guy and very hard-working and he’s just done a wonderful job.”

Jantzen’s work ethic has already become a thing of legend and awe. Up every weekday at 7 a.m., he usually got in a quick two-hour workout consisting of lifting or running before heading off to class. He then returned at 4 p.m. for a practice involving live wrestling before watching tape of opponents in the evening. In the end, Jantzen spent three different parts of his day dedicating himself to winning a National Championship.

“The difference is that he’d never take a day off,” Weiss said. “Where people get tired, he won’t do that....He does not hear from people telling him he needs to work harder, or you need to run here, or you need to lift this. He’s doing it all.”

Even assistant coach Jared Frayer—a former NCAA runner-up who still competes and recently placed third at the U.S. Nationals—is stunned by what Jantzen is able to push himself to do.

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“He’s a workhorse,” Frayer said. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s something that I know that I wish I had.”

“Listen, there’s a reason why he always wins every single sprint, or stadium,” Weiss adds. “I mean look at him: He’s got muscles sticking out of muscles. He’s rock solid. He’s not supposed to be winning things like that.”

The result? Jantzen has conditioned himself as the most dedicated, prepared individual heading into any match, even those with national title implications. Because for him, coming in third place two years in a row would never be enough.

“He was just so prepared for everything Esposito gave him. I mean everything,” Weiss said of Jantzen’s opponent in the NCAA championship match, Oklahoma State’s Zack Esposito. “Esposito had no idea what he was up against...[Jantzen] was one step ahead of everything Esposito had to offer.”

Jantzen’s dedication and hard work have now made it possible for others to succeed. Sophomore Max Meltzer (141 lbs.), who has served as one of Jantzen’s main wrestling partners, has decided to take next year off in order to put himself in a better position to win a national championship himself.

“You can tell that he took Max under his wing,” Frayer said. “He tends to gravitate to people who want to succeed, who want to be the best that they can possibly be...You saw that in Max.”

Meltzer says that he plans to spend the fall in Cambridge and the spring in Washington D.C., but will be traveling to a lot to tournaments in order to become a more experienced wrestler.

“After NCAAs [where Meltzer failed to place] I was disappointed in my performance,” Meltzer said. “I saw what a special feeling it was [to see Jantzen win NCAAs] and it just really motivated me. I think my best opportunity to win a national championship is to take a year off.”

“I think [Max] has the talent to win it all, in all honesty,” Weiss said.

But Jantzen has taken more than just Meltzer under his wing. His work with some of the freshmen on the team, such as Robbie Preston (125 lbs.), Jonathan Spiker (165 lbs.) and especially heavyweight Bode Ogunwole have helped them to improve dramatically.

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