Thielke Lives Up To Billing

By Joe Shinners

    Jesse Thielke might not be the most talkative kid on the block. He doesn’t like to boast about his past accomplishments, and his camp is quiet heading into the wrestling championship season.

    The Germantown freshman 112-pound wrestling sensation, however, is speaking volumes with his performance on the mat, and is poised to make a run at history this year.

    Thielke, one of the state's top young wrestlers to emerge in the past four years, will try to win his first North Shore Conference title Saturday at Port Washington. The tournament begins at 10 a.m.

    Thielke will take a 32-0 record with 20 pins into the tournament during a season that has seen him win four invitational titles. Included is an impressive championship march at the Oshkosh on The Water Invite, where he was named Outstanding Wrestler, and an equally dominating championship showing at the Ed Stech Tournament at West Allis Central.

    “He’s the real deal,” said Oak Creek coach Jim Hauerwas, in his 31st year, at the Ed Stech. “He can do it all.”

    Added former 24-year Germantown coach and current Homestead co-coach Barry Bernstein at the Hartford Duals this year: “What’s so impressive is that he has the ability to go from move to move so quickly as just a freshman.  The question is whether he can handle the age difference in high school when he takes on a senior as a freshman. There’s a big difference in strength there.”

    Thielke answered the questions in Oshkosh. He soundly defeated returning 103 tournament champion Sam Delain, a Sturgeon Bay senior, by a 17-1 technical fall in the 112 final this year.

A conference title would be Thielke's first step toward a state tournament berth, and a difficult attempt at a Division 1 state championship for a freshman.

Thielke’s youth record is impressive. He’s won 12 kids state championships and five kids national championships. He entered the season ranked No. 1 in the nation in freestyle, No. 2 in folkstyle (high school) and No. 1 in Greco-Roman in his age group, according to the

Thielke has down-played the pressure this year, instead focusing on finally being part of a team during his freshman year after years of wrestling solo on the national scene.

    “I don’t know. I’m not feeling any pressure,” he said at the Ed Stech. “I’m used to big matches. What I like is finally being on a team. I had a lot of fun being on the state (all-star) teams wrestling in dual meets.”

    Currently, Thielke is ranked No. 2 in Division 1 in the state at 112 behind Manitowoc senior Alex Becka, the 103 D1 title winner a year ago, by the Crossface.

Recent history is against the Germantown star, especially in D1. The state tournament is where talented freshmen have nearly always been turned away from a title when the big crowds – and older kids - converge in Madison.

    The last freshman to win a D1 title was Craig Henning. He won the 103 title as freshman at Chippewa Falls in 2001. Henning didn't repeat until his senior year before becoming an all-American wrestler at the University of Wisconsin.

    His brother, Joe, also won a 119 D1 title in 1999 as a freshman, defeating by 9-7 in overtime a brash Arrowhead freshman named Ben Askren, the four-time NCAA finalist and two-time NCAA champion at Missouri. Joe Henning won three titles; Askren won two.

    Hartford’s Dennis Hall, an Olympic medal winner and three-time state champ, won a state title as a freshman in 1986, but was denied as a sophomore. Kettle Moraine’s Erik Swick, another talented youth wrestler, failed in his attempt to win a state title as a freshman, but went 108-0 over the next three years and won three titles (‘94-‘96).

Also, consider that among the seven four-time state champions only River Falls' Kevin Black (‘95-'98) was able to accomplish the feat in Division 1. Black was also an all-American at UW. 

    That's some pretty heady company to keep for a high school freshman, even with his solid youth wrestling background on the national level as he attempts to win his school’s first wrestling championship.

    “I think (Jesse’s) right where he needs to be,” said Germantown coach Chris Weiss. “He’s pretty collected right now. He has that kind of knowledge he needs. We try to take it one step at a time and beat the guy he needs to beat today. He’s a guy who is unproven (on the high school level). Without a doubt, everybody wants to put him on a pedestal, but he’s got to earn it like everybody else.”