Inside the Rivalry Chapter 7, Part 2: Jesse Sundell

By Joshua Swafford for The Predicament

Inside the Rivalry Chapter 7, Part 2: Jesse Sundell

 

Let’s begin with Jesse. I’ll never forget meeting Jesse Sundell. I met the guy at the 1997 AAU State Tournament. He was in my grade. He and I were wrestling in the “C” Division aka Junior High. He was in the 100 lb. weight class while I wrestled in the 110 lb. weight class. That year, Jesse and I were in the same area of the gym for most of the tournament, for we were both on the winner’s side of the bracket for the majority of the tournament (in his case, the entire tournament). The winner's side matches were generally all wrestled on the same mats. Since I started wrestling, I was pretty social with the competition. I talked wrestling with pretty much any wrestler in my age group who liked talking wrestling as much as I did. For a lot of guys, associating with the competition wasn’t their thing, but every once in a while, I’d meet someone like Brett Wheelan who had a better wrestling stats memory than me and liked to talk wrestling even more than I did. I spent hours talking to these types of people. When I initiated a conversation with Jesse for the first time ever, as we were standing by our assigned mat, I quickly found out that he was a guy who loved talking wrestling also. He knew who everyone was and what they had done and who beat who at which tournament and so on. I remember thinking that he was one of the nicest, coolest people I had ever met. He had tons of knowledge of the sport and those who participated in it and was totally respectful when discussing his opponents. However, he was 100% confident in his own ability to win and for good reason.

In the semifinal round at that tournament, I was on-deck to wrestle Garrett Kozik from Belle Plaine when Jesse was on the mat wrestling a guy from my area who was a standout in my area, (Southeast Iowa) since he began. This guy placed high at state every year and eventually won state as a senior in high school, which means I watched him dominate our local competition for twelve years. I had seen him take losses, always hard-fought, but I never personally witnessed him ever being defeated in a manner in which he was dominated vs. Sundell. I didn’t expect to see what went down in that match. I had no idea that Jesse was so good. In fact, when he walked on the mat, I thought to myself, “cool, a chance to see Wade Sundell’s brother wrestle a guy that I know. I wonder if he is good like his brother?” About four seconds after thinking this, two things happened: 1.) The match started and 2.) Jesse had this guy on his back. That’s right, I knew Sundell was the real deal after four seconds of watching him wrestle. My train of thought was along the lines of, “ok wrestling world. Say hello to THIS guy…Jesse Sundell.” Jesse proceeded to tech-fall this guy about half-way through the seconnd period. I couldn’t believe what I had witnessed. “Where on Earth did this kid come from and how is it possible to be THAT good,” I thought to myself as I plodded onto the mat to wrestle my own semifinals match vs. Kozik. About two minutes later, I was bawling under the bleachers because Kozik pinned me in the second period. I no longer knew Jesse as “Wade’s brother.” He was Jesse…freakin…Sundell.

Jesse Sundell: Ha! that was a fun tournament. That is when I finally made the jump. I started beating guys that had been taking it to me the years before. I had wrestled a guy named Kris Thayer from Odebolt-Arthur the year before and he always beat me. I finally got him the last match of my seventh grade year and that was the turning point. That was the confidence I needed. I never lost to him again. Crazy how you can make things turn around like that. I made a bet with my step brother that I was going to pin and tech my way through that 1997 AAU State bracket. I beat Shawn Alexander in the finals by major. I lost the bet! Hahaha!

Jesse began wrestling at a young age. He and his brother were the first of his family to try it and they progressively took it more and more seriously as time went on.

Jesse Sundell: None of my family members wrestled prior to Wade and I. Wade and I wrestled from second grade(me) and first grade (Wade). We would wrestle in the winter and play baseball and do rodeo in the summer. When we were younger, wrestling was seasonal. When we got into high school, we started to do some freestyle in Fort Dodge with Mike Rial. We also did some of this over in Ames. Wrestling freestyle really helped make me feel more comfortable in positions. I felt it was crucial in allowing you to detect and feel different openings from different positions that you could capitalize on.

When Jesse stepped on the accelerator of his wrestling growth, he stepped hard and never let up. When Jesse was finished with his high school campaign in 2001, he secured a permanent spot of being undeniably classified as one of the greatest ever Iowa high school wrestlers, for he became Iowa’s 12th ever four time state champion (and Ogden’s second, joining Jason Keenan).

Jesse Sundell: I would say the wrestler that was the most influential to me growing up was Jason Keenan(Ogden's other four time state champion). He was the one I set all of my goals after. He had set the bar and I wanted to be next to him.

Jesse did things that defied logic. In fact, to this day, the most astonishing thing I’ve ever witnessed anyone accomplish on a wrestling mat was something he did at the state tournament his junior year. He won his third state title in dominating fashion in a bracket that included the likes of Galanakis and future state champs, Aaron Helmrich of North Linn and Dustin Hinschberger of Belle Plain. An impressive feat in itself, but unexplainable when considering the fact that he did this with a broken leg that he suffered in a bull riding accident…

Jesse Sundell: The high point of my high school wrestling career was winning my third title my junior year. I had a compound fracture, breaking both the tibia and fibula in my right leg. This occurred in a bull-riding accident that occurred on Labor Day weekend. I remember the doctor coming in after I had broke it and told me that I wouldn't be able to get back on the mat until March. I told him that was not going to work, for I had state wrestling in February. He told me that there was no way I could see the mat by then. I was back in the room and practicing at the end of December and wrestled my first match of that year in January. Looking back, there was no way I should have been wrestling. I was limping around still. I had to completely change my style of wrestling. I learned more mental toughness and perseverance through that season than any other. Being able to go 26-0 that year and win my third state title was the hardest obstacle I have ever had to overcome. I gave up rodeo after that year to stay healthy for wrestling, although rodeo will always be part of who the Sundell’s are as a family. My dad was a very successful at rodeoing. He rode bareback, bulls and saddle bronc. Later in his career just rode saddle bronc. Won multiple titles for the state of Iowa associations and also regional titles. Would travel to rodeos on the weekends to watch him ride. Growing up, my brother and I dreamed about traveling together riding professionally. We started out riding sheep, moved up to calves, then steers, then bulls. We are big into it. My brother, Wade has continued to ride and is one of the top Saddle bronc riders in the world. I had pretty good success riding bulls. I won some local buckles and was just getting ready to start attending larger rodeos until I broke my leg.

Entering the postseason of his Senior year, Jesse was in the process of putting together a high school wrestling season that was flawless. With three weeks left to go in his entire high school career, not only had he won state the previous three years, but he had yet to lose a match. And nothing indicated that he was in jeopardy of not becoming an undefeated four time state champion, for he beat everyone he faced soundly. No one really seemed to come close to beating Sundell. Therefore, when a group of fans began publicly voicing their opinions that a guy in the grade below him named Mario Galanakis from Nodaway Valley was going to beat Jesse, starting with their first anticipated showdown at Sectionals, it was confusing to many wrestling fans who hadn’t even witnessed a visible kink in Jesse’s armor. And the Galanakis movement through the course of the season continued to gain more steam and steadily, but surely, more and more fans continued to jump aboard the “Galanakis Train.” But why? Why were so many people clamoring for Galanakis to win, when Sundell’s career to that point was unblemished and close to perfection? Who was this kid and was the Galanakis Train legit or was it another rendition of the hype train?