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All-American Jason Welch of Northwestern looking to cap career with NCAA title
Craig Sesker USA Wrestling

Northwestern’s Jason Welch is 24-1 and ranked No. 2 nationally this season.

Jason Welch is a guy who is used to setting lofty goals and attaining them.

He arrived at Northwestern five years ago with sky-high expectations as a three-time California state champion and the nation’s No. 1 recruit.

And he’s fulfilled much of that promise as a two-time All-American with the Wildcats.

But one elusive goal remains for the talented senior from Walnut Creek, Calif. He wants to win his first NCAA title.

Ranked second nationally with just a month left in his college career, Welch is on course to contend for the 157-pound crown this year.

“Jason is wrestling at a really high level right now,” Northwestern coach Drew Pariano said. “He’s been able to retain his strength better than any other year and that’s going to be huge in the third period of matches. He’s looked very good in the room. He’s extremely hard to score on and when he gets his offense going, he’s very tough to beat.

“He’s tougher now than he’s ever been. He’s done a lot of extra workouts and done everything he needs to get what he wants, and that’s obviously an NCAA title.”

Welch has had a pair of near-misses at the last two NCAA tournaments, dropping close semifinal matches. He fell to Arizona State’s Bubba Jenkins 8-5 in the 2011 semifinals before Iowa’s Derek St. John downed him 5-1 in the 2012 semis.

Welch placed sixth in the nation as a sophomore in 2011 and fourth as a junior in 2012.

“Those semifinal matches, I definitely use that as motivation,” he said. “I made little mistakes in those matches that I need to correct. It was really tough, but I have to keep looking forward and not look in the past. I have goals that I haven’t reached. I just have to keep working hard and keep a positive attitude.”

Welch delivered one of the biggest wins of the 2011 NCAAs. Seeded eighth, Welch knocked off No. 1 seed Adam Hall of Boise State 3-1 in the quarterfinals.

“I felt like I wrestled my style and wrestled my match,” Welch said. “That was a really good moment for me because I felt like I was wrestling really well at that point. It’s obviously exciting to win a big match like that against the No. 1 seed.”

Welch had his share of powerhouse college programs pursuing him when he was coming out of high school, but he eventually chose Northwestern over top programs like Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Michigan.

“Northwestern had the most answers for all of my questions for wrestling, academics and location. It had the best combination for all of those things,” he said. “I really love the school and I love Chicago. I’ve really developed as a person and a wrestler here. I’m really happy with the decision to come here.”

Welch started for Northwestern as a true freshman and fell just short of All-American honors at his first NCAA tournament. Following a redshirt season, Welch has landed a spot on the medal podium at nationals the past two seasons.

“You can easily get star struck the first time you go to the NCAA tournament,” he said. “I feel really comfortable going back there because I’ve been there three times already.”

Welch will receive a preview of the NCAAs at next month’s Big Ten Championships in Champaign, Ill.

St. John is ranked No. 1 nationally, Penn State’s Dylan Alton is No. 5 and Nebraska’s James Green is No. 6. St. John placed second at the 2012 NCAAs with Alton finishing third and Green seventh.

Welch is 24-1 this season, with his only loss coming in a 9-8 setback to Green in a Big Ten dual.

“Big Tens will be a great test against some of the best guys in the country,” Welch said. “It will let me know where I stand before NCAAs.”

Welch hasn’t faced St. John this season after falling to him at Big Tens and NCAAs last season.

“It’s been frustrating for me when I’ve wrestled him,” Welch said. “I feel like those losses are directly my fault. I’ve been making little mistakes and that’s what has cost me. I just need to stay focused for seven minutes and pay attention to detail.”

Welch is on track to complete his degree in English literature in March, and he hopes to become a teacher and a coach. He’s been accepted into graduate school at DePaul to study secondary education for English.

“Jason represents a guy who has really bought into our program,” Pariano said. “He could have gone to any school he wanted to and he chose Northwestern for a variety of reasons. He felt like he could win a national title and leave with a great degree. He’s a great person and a great wrestler. He’s the kind of guy we want here. He’s done really well in school. We’ve been very lucky to have a guy like Jason wear the Northwestern singlet.”

Now 23 years old, Welch is ready to make one final splash on the mat when the NCAA tournament takes place in late March in Des Moines, Iowa.

“It’s all about peaking at the end of the season,” he said. “I just have to make sure my body feels good and I’m ready to go. I’ve worked on my technique and conditioning, and it’s just a matter of being 100 percent at Big Tens and NCAAs. I feel like I’m wrestling well and I can win those tough matches.”

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