Title can't be torn from him
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Doug Lesmerises - Plain Dealer Reporter
His left ankle caught between the biceps and body of #1-ranked Chad Mendes of Cal Poly, Ohio State junior J Jaggers could feel the ligaments in his ankle tear.
The referee spotted the dangerous situation and stopped the NCAA championship wrestling match at 141 pounds, but the damage had been done. Given 90 seconds of injury time, by rule, to recover, the Northfield native and four-time Ohio high school state champion from St. Peter Chanel had to compose himself or lose, and his coach told the Buckeyes' trainer to wrap tape from Jaggers' ankle to his shoe.
Jaggers, ahead, 5-1, and 16 seconds away from a national title, said no.
And then he got ready to wrestle.
"I don't care if someone came out with a chainsaw and cut my leg off," Jaggers said. "There was no way I wasn't going to finish that match."
Stalling his way through the pain and the final 16 seconds, Jaggers held on for a 5-2 win Saturday in St. Louis and then rose as Ohio State's first national champion since 2004. He was later joined by 184-pound sophomore Mike Pucillo, a Cuyahoga Falls native and Walsh Jesuit grad, giving the Buckeyes two individual champions for just the second time in school history.
Throw in heavyweight J.D. Bergman's runner-up finish and Lance Palmer's eighth-place showing at 149 pounds, and the Buckeyes finished second in the team standings, the best result in the 88-year history of the program.
"This should solidify in the mind of any recruit that has a lifelong dream of winning a national championship," said second-year OSU coach Tom Ryan, "that it can be accomplished at Ohio State."
The victories serve as a foundation for the program Ryan wants to build, though no matter the circumstance, Jaggers' win wouldn't be easily forgotten.
"For someone who has fought his whole life for that moment," Ryan said, "it's a moment you don't let go of very easily."
Jaggers said he'd been visualizing the NCAA title match before bed every night for months, envisioning every scenario, from having to fight while behind on points to getting up off his back to, yes, having a lead and suffering a late injury.
"When it happened, I thought, 'I can't believe this is happening,' " Jaggers said. "It was destiny. I had wrestled this in my head so many times, I was ready for it. It was something I wasn't going to let stop me."
Even though he knew exactly what was happening, torn ligaments are nothing new to him. He tore the ACL in his left knee and a left elbow ligament during separate matches earlier in his Ohio State career. Unranked a year ago, he compiled several upsets to finish seventh at the NCAAs. He was the #6 seed this year and defeated the #3, #2 and #1 seeds to take the title, earning a black eye along the way that stuck with him this week, along with a limp. The ankle was diagnosed as a severe sprain, along with the ligament tears.
"The only thing that makes it feel good right now is knowing I have so long to recover and knowing what I just did," Jaggers said Tuesday. "This would hurt a lot worse if it came with a loss in the finals. To be a national champion takes a little bit of the pain away."
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