Sophomore Jaxon Penovich stands in first place on the podium on Feb. 16. Holding the IHSA bracket in hand, Penovich lays claim to his outstanding 47-3 season — an improvement from his freshman year where he finished in fifth place at state with a record of 41-5.
Sophomore Jaxon Penovich stands in first place on the podium on Feb. 16. Holding the IHSA bracket in hand, Penovich lays claim to his outstanding 47-3 season — an improvement from his freshman year where he finished in fifth place at state with a record of 41-5.

Penovich wins IHSA wrestling championship; third wrestler to win in Prospect history

After beating Loyola wrestler Quinn Herbert for the third time, sophomore Jaxon Penovich clinched the first state title for boys’ wrestling since 2017 — a record previously held by Matt Wroblewski — and became the third wrestler to win an IHSA championship in Prospect history. 

Since Penovich wiped out Herbert in the regional and sectional finals, he knew he would be able to secure the final win. In a loud and enthusiastic environment, Penovich outscored Herbert 13-5, all while enjoying every moment at the State Farm Center in Champaign. 

“You[‘ve] got hundreds, thousands [of people], maybe even watching you,” Penovich said. “You[’ve] got three mats 1A, 2A and 3A, and you’re out there performing. It’s just amazing. I love that energy … It fire[d] me up when I was out there, and it was a lot of fun [with] everyone cheering for you.”

While the match proved to be an exhilarating experience for Penovich, it also left head wrestling coach Ashton Brown something to be proud of. Towards the end of the match, Penovich knew he was about to win the title. From that point on until the buzzer rang, Brown saw Penovich wearing a huge smile on his face.

“It reminds you as a coach [of] why you kind of do things …” Brown said. “When you know a kid accomplished what one of their goals was, it was pretty special to see and be a part of.”

From the very beginning of the season, Penovich had complete confidence in his ability. Describing his daily routine as “eat, sleep [and] wrestle,” Penovich said that he trains nearly 365 days a year. When he’s not wrestling for Prospect, he wrestles at Suplex Wrestling Club in Prospect Heights and Relentless Training Center in Johnsburg, about an hour away. All the preparation and hard work has translated into an unwavering sense of belief in his own ability.

“I was pretty confident [I could win state],” Penovich said. “I knew this whole season that no one in the state is better than me … It was just going out there dominating [and] not letting these guys get a chance to breathe and just kind of pushing the pace on them and breaking them.”

His focus resulted in a 47-3 record, including 23 pins, 19 technical falls and two major decisions, according to Brown. Adding on to his list of impressive feats, Penovich was undefeated this season in Illinois, with his only losses coming from wrestlers in Wisconsin.

Although Penovich crushed the competition during most of the season, he said that his quarterfinal matchup at state was the most difficult for him. Standing at around 6 ‘6, Mount Carmel’s Rylan Breen entered the round to face off against Penovich. With his height advantage, Breen kept the match close for much of the time. In the third period, however, Brown told Jaxon something similar to “If you want it, go get it.” Miraculously, Brown saw Penovich “flip a switch” and outwrestle Breen for the rest of the period.

“He had another gear that other guys don’t have, and he was tired but he didn’t wrestle like it, so he found that other gear because he knew he wanted to be a state champion, and he just went out and scored more points,” Brown said.

In tough matches like that, Penovich tries to stay consistent in his game plan and stick with his own style.

“I just wrestle the same,” Penovich said. “You[‘ve] got to be confident. You can’t be scared [that] this kid’s taller or whatever, you[‘ve] just got to go out there and wrestle … You’re at state, everyone’s going to be tough. There’s no one that’s not going to be tough.”

Now that Penovich has won a state championship, he’s still not finished. His main goal is to win three IHSA championships in a row, and after that he plans on wrestling in college. Although he’s not sure exactly where he’d go, he stated that wrestling at schools like the University of Illinois, Penn State and NC State all sounded appealing to him.  

Despite his own success at the high school level, Penovich said that he’s striving to improve on the little things in his game like finishing his shots and keeping his head up. Additionally, Brown added that Penovich has worked hard on getting stronger during last year’s offseason, and said that he’ll continue to build strength for this offseason. 

This quality, his obsession with enhancing his game and his constant drive, is something that makes him a leader for other wrestlers to follow at Prospect, according to Brown.

“He’s constantly finding ways to improve,” Brown said. “It’s one of those things to where he’s not necessarily the vocal leader, but there’s a reason he’s as good as he is, and it’s [because] he’s always finding a way to push himself and get outside of his comfort zone to get better.”

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