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Wrestling coach pins down honor

March 22, 2006

Photo of Lars JensenOn March 9, Lars Jensen was inducted into the NCAA Division II Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

His colleagues at SFSU weren't surprised to hear the news. "Under Lars, the wrestling team has been traditionally nationally ranked and he has a really terrific record for individual wrestlers, including four-time All Americans," Director of Athletics Mike Simpson said.

Jensen said the induction is an honor but the greatest rewards of coaching come from the wrestlers themselves.

"As coaches we make an impact on the lives of student athletes," Jensen said. "We have a chance to make a positive difference in their lives and that's more gratifying than any award."

Donald Lockett (B.A., '05), a former Gator wrestler, was inspired to return after graduation to work as Jensen's assistant coach.

"Coach is consistent," Lockett said. "You know what he expects. He has always said that if you want to achieve more, you have to do more. It's not just coming to practice. You have to be self-motivated."

During his 23-year tenure as head coach, Jensen has helped his wrestlers uncover their potential. He has coached 87 NCAA Division II National Qualifiers, 50 All-Americans, 28 All-Academic Team members and nine National Champions. Seven of his teams have placed in the top 10 at the nationals. His 1997 team captured the NCAA Division II National Championship.

Jensen began his collegiate wrestling career in 1975 at College of San Mateo, where he was selected as the team's most outstanding wrestler two years in row. During the off-season Jensen competed in Bay Area freestyle competitions. That's where Professor Allen Abraham, then head SFSU wrestling coach, kept running into the young wrestler. "A lot of wrestlers spend the off-season hanging out at the beach," Abraham said, "but Lars was taking every opportunity to practice, to become a better wrestler."

Abraham suspected Jensen had the drive and dedication necessary to become a strong component of the Gator wrestling team. He was right. After recruiting Jensen from College of San Mateo, Abraham remembers that Jensen redshirted his first year. The redshirt status meant he could not compete, but Jensen didn't miss a single practice. "Even the extra ones that weren't mandatory for the team," Abraham said, adding that Jensen's work ethic was contagious among his fellow teammates.

Jensen became a formidable force on the mats at SFSU. During his junior and senior year he qualified for the NCAA Division II Nationals. He also captured the California Collegiate Wrestling Championship. His win-loss record was 44-17. In 1980, Jensen placed first in the Northern California United States Olympic Trials and went on to compete in the national trials.

In 1981, after earning his bachelor's degree in physical education, Jensen stayed at SFSU to work as Abraham's assistant coach. Two years later, he became head coach and took on a teaching position in the Physical Education Department. Jensen earned his master's in physical education in 1987.

"He's smart, consistent and motivated," Abraham said. "He's done a wonderful job. He's taken the program a step beyond where it was -- maybe two."

Jensen's latest Hall of Fame induction is the third professional tribute to his talents in less than 12 months. In 2005, Jensen became a member of both the SFSU Athletic Hall of Fame and the San Mateo County Sports Hall of Fame. Prior honors include WIN Magazine's Dan Gable Coach of the Year and NCAA Division II Coach of the Year, both in 1997, and NCAA Division II West Regional Coach of the Year in 2003.

Wrestling runs in Jensen's family. In high school, much to their parents' chagrin, Jensen and his twin brother, Thor, also an accomplished wrestler, practiced their wrestling holds and take downs on one another in their Menlo Park home. "There were a lot of broken windows and furniture," recalled Jensen, who said his parents were happy to see the damage subside when he and his brother attended separate California State University campuses.

-- Adrianne Bee


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Last modified March 22, 2006 by University Communications