February 8, 2023 Local Stories in and Around St. Joseph, Illinois

Wendling doesn’t give up, ready for state meet

When Jake Wendling first suffered a knee injury earlier this season, wrestling at the state meet didn’t seem likely.


But Wendling isn’t like most wrestlers. The St. Joseph-Ogden High School senior will get a chance to end his prep wrestling career on the biggest stage possible when he opens the Class 1A state meet with a first-round match at 120 pounds against Gabe Spencer from Heyworth on Thursday afternoon at State Farm Center in Champaign.


It wasn’t easy, though. Wendling only carries an 11-3 record into state, a meet where most wrestlers have competed between 40-50 times already that season. His teammate and fellow state qualifier, sophomore AJ Wagner, carries a 43-7 record into his first-round match at 106 pounds.


“Jake has been dealing with a knee injury most of the season,” SJO coach Richard Vetter said. “He tried to return from this injury earlier this year and re-aggravated the injury, costing him more time out of the lineup. He is way behind other wrestlers as a result of missing so much time, but he is also feeling good because his body has not taken the same physical pounding that everyone else has endured.”


Already a two-time state qualifier with the Spartans, it wasn’t exactly the season Wendling envisioned when practice started in early November. Especially for his senior season.


“My knee injury came out of nowhere, and I was told that there may be a chance that I wouldn’t heal up in time for the state tournament,” Wendling said. “It being my last year, this was very heart-breaking. I worked hard, kept my cardio up and kept getting treatment while having a positive mindset.”


Even without one of his most talented wrestlers in the lineup for the majority of the season, Vetter didn’t see a change in attitude from Wendling.


“For the most part, Jake has stayed positive throughout the entire season,” Vetter said. “He has been doing the rehab and traveling to Indianapolis for cryotherapy. One thing that kept him motivated was the hope that he would be able to get back on the mat for the postseason, which he has been able to do.”


After winning a regional title at Unity on Feb. 2, Wendling followed that up by making the semifinals last Friday night at the Carterville Sectional. A top-four finish at the sectional meet is all Wendling needed to qualify for state, and fourth place is where he ended up.


“Jake took care of business on Friday night, which set up the change for him to become a state qualifier,” Vetter said. “We knew, sitting in the semifinals, that he only needed to win one match to qualify for state and he would have two opportunities to do so. After losing the semifinal match, he left it all on the mat to win in the blood round, which made him a state qualifier.”


Wendling accomplished a goal he set well before his senior season started and well before his knee injury. The best part, too? Wendling’s season and career at SJO isn’t done yet.


“I am very happy, after the challenges that Jake has faced, that he will be able to walk onto the mats at state for one last time,” Vetter said. “It would have been easy to Jake to give up on his goal and blame a lost senior season on an injury. But instead, he overcame the obstacles and qualified for state, proving that he is one of the best. Jake is such a good wrestler because of the drive that he has to be successful. Through the course of the season, he has realized that he should take nothing for granted and take advantage of every opportunity that arises.”


Like the one that awaits him in Champaign. A successful state meet, in Wendling’s mind, is to get on the podium and earn a state medal.
Even if he doesn’t, Wendling will take life lessons with him from the sport of wrestling and from his time at SJO.


“I have wrestled for eight years and I like the sport because it is the one sport that I think you really are held accountable for because it is just you on the mat,” Wendling said. “If you don’t work hard, it will show. Wrestling at SJO has been a great experience, especially meeting the people I did. I talked to people that I may not have talked to if we hadn’t wrestled and it gave me many life skills, like working hard and accountability, that I can use the rest of my life.”

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