By STEVE KRAH
Jesse Mendez had a “blast” in punctuating his freshmen wrestling season at Crown Point High School with a 2019 IHSAA title.
The 126-pounder started off his finals match with a “blast double” takedown and went on to a 6-0 win against Avon junior Raymond Rioux to cap a 42-0 season.
Mendez reigned in a stacked weight division. He pinned Western freshman Hayden Shepherd in 1:02 Friday and Mt. Vernon (Fortville) senior Chase Wilkerson in 3:58 in the quarterfinals before earning a 13-4 major decision against Jimtown senior Hunter Watts in the semifinals.
“He’s a tough wrestler and a tough opponent to get by,” said Mendez of Watts, who was a champion at 120 in 2018, runner-up at 113 in 2017 and sixth at 106 in 2016.
Rioux, who had placed third at 120 in 2018 and sixth at 106 in 2017, beat Yorktown senior Brayden Curtis 3-1 in the semifinals. Curtis was a champion at 113 in 2018 and at 106 in 2017 after finishing seventh at 106 in 2016.
And yet Mendez was dominant. How did that happen?
“I work hard in the (practice) room,” said Mendez. “My coaches and I are always trying to get to my attacks more often. I just trust in what they’ve been teaching me and it’s been working.”
Bulldogs coach Branden Lorek has been impressed with the ability and work ethic of Mendez.
“He’s got all the attributes — he’s fast, strong, physical, smart,” says Lorek. “He listens very well. He’s very coachable and a student of the sport.
“He’s the first guy in the room and the last guy to leave. For a freshman, he’s not afraid to speak up and pick guys up. He’s a welcome
While there plenty of eyes on him at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and on television, Mendez was not intimidated.
“I’ve been wrestling in big tournaments my whole life,” said Mendez, 15. “I’ve been in tight situations in front of big crowds.
“I think I thrive off of it.”
Mendez is confident in his abilities.
“If I wrestle my match I can beat anybody,” said Mendez. “If I get my attacks going, there’s nobody who can stop me.
“I think I can really open kids up a lot. I’m really good at moving my feet and my hands.”
As his head coach puts it, Mendez wants to “be the hero.”
“He wants to go out and get bonus points and do whatever he can for the team,” said Lorek. “If we bump him up a weight class, he has no problem doing that. If we need him to wrestle for a major, he’ll get the job done.”
Around 7 or 8, Mendez put aside his other sports and focused on the mat. He hooked up with the Region Wrestling Academy.
“Those coaches are great,” said Mendez, who grew up in the Lake Central district before moving to Crown Point in middle school. Hector and Monica Mendez have three children — Payton, Jesse and Lyla.
“My family’s really important to me,” said Jesse. “They sacrifice a lot for me.”
There won’t be much time spent basking in his state title for Mendez. After a brief break, he’s going to start working again to get ready for meets like the FloNationals, Iowa Folkstyle Nationals, World Team Trials, Super 32, Fargo and Who’s No. 1?.
In other words, the wrestling world will be hearing more from Jesse Mendez.
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