Zach Jankiewicz has spent the year working harder than the other guy, sharpening skills he hopes will bring him a state championship

Breaking through

Wrestling

February 28, 2007|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,Sun Reporter

Glen Burnie junior Zach Jankiewicz has never shied away from hard work, particularly when it comes to wrestling.

In early spring of his freshman year, he broke the L4 and L5 vertebrae in his lower back and suffered a herniated disk during a weightlifting session. With successful therapy and rehabilitation, his doctor said Jankiewicz could possibly resume playing sports in a year. Jankiewicz ended up cleared to play football in the fall and was back on the mat for his sophomore wrestling season.

That experience has made this breakthrough season that much more special for Jankiewicz, who captured his first county crown Feb. 17 when he came away with a sturdy 4-1 decision against Chesapeake's Chris Blake to claim the 145-pound weight class.

For Jankiewicz, who has been wrestling for 10 years, dating to his early days with the Anne Arundel Rebels in the junior league, getting the chance to stand at the top of the podium is something he plans to get used to.

"It was weird because I'd been in the finals twice in my life during junior league and never won," said Jankiewicz, who takes a 32-6 record into this weekend's state tournament at College Park after placing third in the Class 4A-3A East region. "So for a minute or so, it just didn't sink in. Right when we got on the podium, then it was like, `Yeah - I finally won a county championship.' It felt great."

Jankiewicz went 19-12 as a freshman - taking fourth in Anne Arundel - and then was 24-12 last year with a fifth-place showing at the county tournament. The strides he has made this season came with the help of his participation in the Ohio State Intensive Training Camp last summer.

"The first day he hated it - he was tired and worn out," said his father, Dan Jankiewicz. "He called home and asked his mom, `Why did you let me come here?' By the time I went to go pick him up at the end of the week, he was a totally different person. He was like, `Yeah, I want to come back and do another one.' He won all four of the tournaments he had in his weight class, and by the end of the week, they were all calling him a `stud.'"

Stronger, more confident and improved technically, Jankiewicz showed signs he was ready to take his wrestling abilities to a higher level right from the start of the season. Assistant coach Brian Probst, a private schools state champion at Mount St. Joseph in the 145-pound weight class in 2003, immediately took note.

Another big benefit for Jankiewicz has been having Probst in the practice room to pair up with.

"Last year, he was more of a student - very tentative," Probst said. "This year, he's a lot more confident, a lot more calculated. He's more like a workout partner. He's really begun to push back and he has a huge heart. Earlier in the season, we were going pretty hard and he actually took me down. I got up and the other coaches were smiling because he actually went for it."

When Jankiewicz began wrestling at 7, he already had a couple of years of football behind him, and the plan was for wrestling to keep him in shape for that sport. Now it's the other way around.

"I just love the one-on-one competition you get with wrestling. If you lose, it's your fault. If you win - it's a great feeling," Jankiewicz said.

The two most valuable lessons he got from the summer camp, which he has effectively applied this season, are the mental aspect of wrestling and the hard work that has to be put in to be successful. Along with showing up with everything he has at each practice, Jankiewicz also made sure to run three days a week on his own early in the season to stay in top form.

"There's no taking days off in wrestling," he said. "If you can push yourself when you're tired, and nobody else can match that, then you're going to go farther and that can be the difference between winning a match and not."

Jankiewicz has already faced two of the tougher opponents he might go up against in his quest for a state title this weekend. He lost a 6-4 double-overtime decision to Northern of Calvert's Paul Carter and gave up two points in the closing seconds against Sherwood's Steven Gamble to lose a 4-2 decision. Both wrestlers were state runner-ups last year.

That's how close Jankiewicz is.

"When it gets to this level at this time of year, it really comes down to who wants it more," Glen Burnie coach Joe Key said. "And that's something where all the work Zach has put in will pay off."

Jankiewicz, who has a 2.5 grade point average, would like nothing more than to find his way to the top of this weekend's state podium.

"I just have to work as hard as I can and continue to push myself to beat these guys," he said. "This is what I've been looking forward to ever since I clicked on to wrestling. I want to do this and also wrestle in college - those are my two goals right now."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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