Work ethic aggressive style drives Jacobson to the top

By Craig Sesker | May 12, 2006, 7:02 a.m. (ET)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Match time is approaching and Sharon Jacobson patiently waits for her turn in the spotlight.

Wearing a bright orange warmup jacket over her singlet, Jacobson lightly bounces up and down on both feet with a serious look in her eyes as she focuses on the task at hand at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

She's all business as the wrestlers walk to the center of the mat. The whistle blows and Jacobson immediately explodes toward her opponent. Her physical, attacking style is readily apparent as she eventually launches her opponent into the air with a textbook headlock.

Just 35 seconds into the match, the referee slaps the mat. Mission accomplished. Jacobson has captured the University Nationals freestyle championship at 55 kg/121 pounds. She is named Outstanding Wrestler.

The talented 22-year-old, who only has been wrestling for six years, has rapidly emerged as a threat to make the U.S. World Team in women's freestyle this year. Fresh off winning the U.S. Nationals in Las Vegas, Jacobson hopes to parlay that momentum into a title at the World Team Trials for women June 30 in Colorado Springs.

"I like to come out real aggressively and put the pressure on my opponent right away. Why hold back?" Jacobson said. "I'm just trying to gain as much experience as I can right now and compete in as many big events as possible. I have made a lot of improvement since last year."

The powerful, 5-foot-1 Jacobson, who competes for the Gator Wrestling Club, has made significant gains since placing fifth at the 2005 World Team Trials.

Jacobson, from El Cajon, Calif., is a member of the U.S. Olympic Education Center program at Northern Michigan. She didn't mess around in the finals of the U.S. Nationals either, pinning Malinda Ripley just 47 seconds into the second period.

Jacobson was named Outstanding Wrestler in women's freestyle in Las Vegas and she became the first USOEC woman to win a U.S. Nationals title.

"Sharon is very determined and she has a really strong desire to win," said Tony DeAnda, the assistant women's coach at the USOEC. "She is real receptive to coaching, real eager to learn and she's made some changes technically that have really helped her. She has a never-say-die attitude. She's probably the hardest worker on our team. I wish there were more like her."

Jacobson was seeded second for the U.S. Nationals, but she never faced No. 1 seed Tina George of the U.S. Army in Vegas. George, a two-time World silver medalist, was upset in the first round at Vegas. George was caught and pinned one minute into her match against Leigh Jaynes of the Gator Wrestling Club. George came back to take third.

Marcie Van Dusen, ranked second behind George entering this season, did not compete in Las Vegas because of a knee injury. Van Dusen, who competes for the Sunkist Kids, placed second to George in the 2005 U.S. Nationals and lost a special wrestle-off to George for a spot on the World Team last year.

"Winning in Vegas gave me a real big boost," Jacobson said. "But I still haven't faced the top women yet this year. Marcie is out with a knee injury and I didn't face Tina in Vegas. Once I face them, I will have a lot better idea where I really stand."

Nevertheless, Jacobson will enter the World Team Trials with high hopes. The World Championships are Sept. 26-Oct. 2 in Guangzhou, China.

"The competition will definitely be stronger at the Trials than it was in Vegas," Jacobson said. "I just have to keep doing what I've been doing. I need to stay focused, keep hitting my moves and stay strong on defense. I'm wrestling with a lot of confidence right now."

Before she competes at the World Team Trials, Jacobson will wrestle at the World Cup on May 20-21 in Nagoya, Japan, and she will compete at the University World Championships in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, on June 15-20.

"My long-term goal is not just making a World team - I want to be No. 1," Jacobson said. "I'm just taking it step by step right now. I want to make the National team and then go from there."

Jacobson has proven she has potential to excel on the international level after she threw and pinned four-time World champion and Olympic bronze medalist Anna Gomis of France at the Dave Schultz Memorial Open in February. Jacobson also won a silver medal at the Alexander Medved International in late March in Belarus.

"Beating Gomis was a huge turning point for Sharon," said Shannyn Gillespie, head women's coach at the USOEC. "She knows now that she's capable of beating some of the best wrestlers in the world. She's gaining some international experience and that's made a big difference for her."

Gillespie is impressed with the progress Jacobson has made.

"In Sharon's last 25 matches, each time out she's gotten better. That's pretty incredible and amazing when you think about it, but you can notice the difference," Gillespie said. "She has improved by leaps and bounds. With each win, you can see her confidence continue to grow. She works extremely hard. She's very dedicated and committed to being the best."

Jacobson's entry into wrestling didn't come until she was 16. She played T-ball when she was younger and tried basketball for a year in junior high while growing up in San Diego. Her older sister, Sarah, competed in wrestling and encouraged Sharon to try the sport. She was hooked virtually from Day 1.

"I'm very grateful my sister got me involved with wrestling," Sharon said. "I've always been very strong and that's something I use to my advantage in wrestling. I like the fact that it's one-on-one and you don't have to depend on other people to win. It's very rewarding when you win and have success because you're doing it yourself."

Jacobson plans to move to the U.S. Olympic Training Center this summer and train full time in Colorado Springs after spending time in the USOEC program in Marquette, Mich.

"Training at Northern Michigan has been a great experience," she said. "The wrestlers are real focused and want to be the best. I'm looking forward to coming out to Colorado Springs and working with all the great athletes and coaches out there. There's a great group of girls to train with who have different styles."

The ultimate goal for Jacobson is competing in the Olympics. Women's wrestling became an Olympic sport in 2004 at the Athens Games.

"Growing up, I watched on TV when the gymnasts and all the other athletes competed in the Olympics. I always envied those athletes and wanted to be like them," she said. "It's really exciting that women's wrestling is an Olympic sport now. Now I have a chance to become an Olympian. That really drives me."

DeAnda said Jacobson has a "real good upside."

"Sharon is strong, she's in excellent shape, she wrestles hard the whole time, and she doesn't mess around out there," DeAnda said. "She definitely has the potential to make it to the Olympics and become an Olympic champion.