A New Start for Jessman Smith

Junior 184-pound Jessman Smith was one of the Hawks who had problems in the 3rd period last season. After finishing 7th at the Big Ten meet as a freshman in 2000, much was expected last season. Although he did better his Big Ten finish by earning 4th place this last spring, Smith missed out on all-American status at the NCAA championships by one match.

Much like his near miss performance in the NCAA meet in Iowa City, much of the 2000-2001 season was a near miss for Smith. His record of 22-12 for the season sounds good, but he was so close to being much better.

Of his 12 losses, 5 of them were at the hands of Minnesota's Damion Hahn. Hahn whipped Smith in a 16-7 major decision at the N.W.C.A. National Wrestling Duals, but the rest of the losses to Hahn were by inches. Smith led Hahn 3-2 late in the 3rd period at the pivotal Iowa-Minnesota dual meet at the end of the Big Ten season, but Hahn escaped with seconds to go and forced overtime. In overtime, Hahn got a quick takedown and won 5-3. It was probably the key swing match in the 17-16 Iowa loss.

In his 4th place finish at the Big Ten meet, both of Smith's losses were to Hahn by the scores of 4-2 and 4-3. The 4-3 match was another in which Smith was leading late but was unable to prevent Hahn from pulling out a late comeback. For good measure, Hahn eliminated Smith from the NCAA tourney, 3-1.

Obviously, a big difference in those five losses was the mental hurdle of having to defeat someone that has beaten Smith before. Wrestling is such a tough sport because there is nowhere to hide. Wrestlers do not have teammates or anyone else to blame if they lose - It is just their opponent and them on an island.

Another year of training and experience should help Jessman, but he is still going to have to overcome mental blocks to improve his performance. However, if he does overcome past results and defeat Hahn, then Hahn might begin to question himself. There are countless examples of wrestling rivalries where one wrestler wins the first 5 or 6 head-to-head matches, only to see his opponent win a breakthrough match. Once the tide has turned, the wrestler that wins the breakout match often ends up going on his own win streak in the head-to-head series.

Jessman and the Iowa coaches have talked about some of his problems late in matches being related to just trying to win instead of continuing to think about dominating. However, his weight had something to do with it as well last season. Smith's weight was 215 to start the season last year, and he had a hard time controlling his weight once he got down to 184.

He has corrected that problem this season by staying under 200 lbs. all year before the season started. If his weight is under control, it should be a lot easier for his body and mind to stay in shape and to be mentally tough in practice and meets.

Besides having his weight under control, there are other reasons why Jessman could have a breakthrough season. In addition to closing the gap on Hahn last season, Smith turned the table on Andy Hrovat of Michigan. Hrovat beat Smith twice in the regular season last year, including a 10-1 major decision in the Iowa-Michigan dual meet. However, Smith beat the Michigan standout in the Big Ten tourney. Hrovat was 5th at the NCAA tourney.

While five of Smith's losses were to Hahn last season, the three most lopsided losses were to Cael Sanderson of Iowa State. No one has been close to beating Sanderson over the last three years - he has never lost. This season Sanderson is moving up a weight to 197. The competitor in Smith probably wants to keep wrestling Sanderson to prove himself against one of the best wrestlers ever, but Sanderson's move out of the 184-class should help Jessman's chances this season.

Practicing in the Iowa Room every day has always tested an individual's wrestling skills and mental resolve, but the Iowa Room has more to offer an upper weight like Smith this year than last season. Besides going against the coaches and other wrestlers in the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, heavyweight recruit Steve Mocco has been an animal in practice that is making the others around him even better. 197-pounders Ryan Fulsaas and Trey Clark are both improved, so between those three and Smith, the upper weights are testing each other every day. The lower weights have always been competitive in The Room, but the upper weights had not provided the same competition and depth in the last few years. That should change this season.

So although Smith is nationally ranked #6 by W.I.N. and #7 by Intermat, contending for the national title this year is not as farfetched as it would seem. His weight is under control, Sanderson moved up a class, he improved against his competition last season, and he has Mocco and improved 197-pounders to wrestler against in practice. Jessman just needs to go out and show Hahn and the rest of the wrestling community that this is a different year and an improved Jessman Smith.

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