By KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
DENMARK – Yes, she was a freshman, wrestling in her first-ever college match. But she’d already taken on top wrestlers around the world on the world stage, so it was admittedly a bit of a rude awakening when, 30 seconds into her collegiate career, Jayden Laurent found herself being flung to the mat.
The former Denmark High School three-sport star and, more notably, Pan Am champion wrestler, was shook up.
“I looked over at my coach,” says the Lakeland University phenom. “He kept telling me to focus.”
For the rest of that match and for the rest of the season, Laurent did just that.
She won that first match 14-4 and she was rarely challenged beyond that over the course of the season, eking out a 2-1 victory in the McKendree Bearcat championship but otherwise dispatching nearly all other comers via falls or technical falls.
It all culminated on Saturday with a sweep to the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association national championship.
Laurent, wrestling at 143, not only secured Lakeland’s first-ever individual national title, she completed a perfect freshman season at 27-0. She is ranked tops nationally in her weight division in the WCWA and cruised past the third-, fifth- and eighth-ranked wrestlers to earn the title. She was dominant in a 12-1 win in the championship. Her 5-0 run through the tournament included an 11-4 victory in the semis, one fall and two technical falls.
The title was just another on an already gaudy resume that one day could very possibly include a world championship and, who knows? an Olympic medal as well. She has two Pan Am titles, three Fargo championships and last year, became a member of the World Team for the first time. (The Pan Am games are for runners-up at the World qualifier and Laurent broke through last season).
Laurent isn’t exactly blasé about all this hardware, but she hardly seems surprised by her success, chalking it up to her love of the sport and her intense work ethic.
“I’ve been training at a super high level,” she says. “This whole year I’ve gone out there assuming I’ve worked harder than anyone else. But even though I’ve had success before I’m maybe a little surprised at this season. I’m just a freshman and I’m wrestling some girls who are in their fifth year.”
Laurent, who fell in love with wrestling at age four while watching her older cousins, says she reached another level over the past year when she opted out of her senior season of softball at Denmark, moved to Sheboygan during the summer and began training with Lakeland assistant Jared Schaaf, with whom she developed an immediate and special bond.
Schaaf says Laurent’s adjustment to collegiate wrestling was phenomenal.
“She believed she belonged, but it’s still a new chapter and it can be scary,” he says. “It took a while for her to be comfortable. It’s a whole new aspect of life.”
Laurent’s upside is unlimited, Schaaf says. She’s already a top-line, freakish athletic, possessed of strength, quickness and an unmatched work ethic.
“She’s so explosive,” he says. “She can throw anyone in the country and when she opens up and gets on the attack, no one can wrestle with her. We just had to work on her understanding how dominant she was. She was maybe holding back a little bit in matches. She needed to believe that her shots were that good and by the time the finals came up she had left all that doubt behind.”
Schaaf says that what sets her apart – other than the one-of-a-kind athleticism, strength and technique – is her willingness to take chances and to grow as a wrestler. He didn’t change a lot with her, just honed some techniques and introduced a few new ideas. She was eager to take it all in, Schaaf says.
Both Laurent and Schaaf say they’re not concerned about not getting challenged much as a freshman. Both agree it provided opportunities to try out some of those new ideas. More importantly it reinforced what she already knew on some level: that she really is that good.
And the closest match she had, that 2-1 win in the Bearcat finals, was also an opportunity.
“I watched film from that over and over,” Laurent says, as though she’s talking about a humiliating defeat rather than a victory in a title bout. “I could see how hesitant I was and how I wasn’t getting to my shots. And then I just let it all hang out.”
She will carry that confidence into the World Team trials, where last year she qualified for the first time. She says she’s never felt better.
“I’m very confident not really even because of my record this year but because of how hard I’ve worked,” she says. “I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been. Mentally, I’m a much more confident wrestler.”
Schaaf waxes as excitedly about what Laurent has already achieved as he does about what she’s capable of yet pulling off.
“Jayden is a very special wrestler,” he says. “She is so single-focused and dedicated as a wrestler. I mean, she has national titles, made a world team, made the senior National Team. And to think that’s
a high school senior doing all that is pretty dang impressive. And now she has a college championship.
“The sky is the limit for her. She can be an Olympian. She can be a world champion. She’s willing to do whatever it takes.”