'Let it fly': Bishop McCort sophomore Jax Forrest gears up for U.S. Olympic Trials this weekend at Penn State

Apr. 18—Wrestling in high-stakes matches throughout his career has prepared Bishop McCort Catholic sophomore Jax Forrest heading into this weekend's United States Olympic Team Trials.

Going 4-0 with a 45-6 scoring margin at the Last Chance Olympic Team Trials Qualifier April 7 gave the 17 year old a jolt of confidence as he seeks a spot on the 2024 Summer Olympics' wrestling team that will compete in Paris.

"I'm just super-blessed to be able to have opportunities to wrestle at such a high level at a young age," Forrest said. "It's surreal. A month or two months ago, if you would have told me I would be wrestling here, I would have been, like, 'No way.' Some of the people that I knew I was going to have to beat to make it here, that would have been a great accomplishment in itself.

"I'm grateful and everything, but I'm still hungry. I still want to go out there and prove to everybody else who is doubting or doesn't think I'm at this level yet that I'm at this level and I can make noise, and who knows, go in there and make the Olympic team."

Forrest, who won the 2024 PIAA Class 2A title at 127 pounds with a 53-2 record, is one of 11 wrestlers battling for the 57-kilogram freestyle title at Penn State University's Bryce Jordan Center. A champion will be crowned after a best-of-3 title series across all weight classes. The winner in each weight bracket earns a spot on the United States Olympic team.

The two-day event begins at 10 a.m. Friday. The Friday and Saturday evening sessions will be televised on USA Network. Peacock will stream each mat throughout the competition. Spots will be decided in men's freestyle and Greco-Roman and women's freestyle. The wrestling portion of the Olympics takes place Aug. 5-11.

Getting to wrestle so close to home will give Forrest plenty of support in State College.

"People I've talked to coming up to me or texting me saying that they're going to be there supporting me, I mean, it's awesome," Forrest said. "I'm super-happy and blessed that it worked out where it's so close to home where my family can come and some friends can come. It's just really cool. I'm just glad that I'm going to be able to wrestle in front of them on such a big stage."

Forrest, the reigning Junior National freestyle champion, is brimming with assurance after beating Gary Steen (12-2 technical fall), Devan Turner (10-0 technical fall), Joshua Rodriguez (13-4 decision) and Nathan Tomasello (10-0 technical fall at 1:18 in the final) April 7. Tomasello, 29, was a four-time All-American and Big Ten champion at Ohio State. He won the 2015 NCAA Division I national title.

"It's given me so much confidence," Forrest said. "I know that if I go out there and wrestle to the best of my abilities like I did at the last chance qualifier, I really believe that I can hang with these guys, and who knows, come away with a win. That's God's plan. I know my abilities and I know what I can do."

No. 10 seed Forrest meets No. 7 Liam Cronin in the first round Friday. Cronin, who wrestled collegiately at Indiana and Nebraska, finished in fifth place at the 2023 NCAA Division I championships. No. 2 seed Thomas Gilman, the 2023 world champ who went 107-12 at Iowa from 2013-17, awaits the winner. The rest of the bracket is made up of notables No. 1 Zane Richards and No. 4 Spencer Lee, a three-time NCAA champ at Iowa.

"I've been doing some game-planning stuff, just watching the guys that I could face," said Forrest, a 2022 United World Wrestling Cadet World Championships runner-up. "Knowing what they're going to do and how to try and wrestle my style. I'm doing the same practices, working with the same people. I'm just trying to make sure that I'm at my best and I just go out there, let it fly and just have fun."

Forrest, the top-ranked sophomore in the country by FloWrestling, is one of three high school wrestlers within his weight class. Wyoming Seminary senior Luke Lilledahl, a Penn State recruit with four state crowns (three Pennsylvania, one Missouri), is seeded ninth. Perrysburg (Ohio) junior Marcus Blaze (157-2 record and three state titles) is seeded 11th. Forrest is 2-2 versus Lilledahl and 2-1 against Blaze in his high school career.

Being on the precipice of making the Olympic team has Forrest focused on the task at hand.

"I always said when I was younger to my dad, 'I want to be an Olympic champion. I want to go to the Olympics,' " Forrest said. "When you're a little kid, you kind of just say that just because it seems cool. Being where I am now, that's a legit possibility I feel like. It's all surreal and it's all happening so fast. I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity. The goal is to go out there and win. I'm still young. I still have a lot more chances if this one doesn't go as planned."

Ever since he dropped a 13-7 decision to Bentworth senior and PennWest Edinboro recruit Chris Vargo in the Southwest Regional final March 2, Forrest has elevated his game to another level. A week later, Forrest avenged his rare loss with a 15-0 technical fall at 4:32 to earn PIAA gold.

"My coaches, when they saw me lose, they were, like, 'Yeah, this is going to set a new fire in him. This loss is a good thing,' " Forrest said. "I needed to take a loss. I'm just grateful it happened at the regional tournament where it doesn't really matter. I'm glad I was able to get that match back. Because I was able to take that loss, I think I've gotten 10 times better since then. My confidence has just kept growing knowing that I can lose to somebody, but come back and tech fall them the next week."

Seven current Penn State wrestlers will compete in the event, including Beau Bartlett (65), Aaron Brooks (86), Alex Facundo (74), Levi Haines (74), Greg Kerkvliet (125), Mitchell Mesenbrink (74) and Carter Starocci (74). Grapplers with Penn State Olympic Regional Training Center ties or former Nittany Lions are Kyle Dake (74), Max Dean (84), Gilman, Mark Hall (84), Vincenzo Joseph (74), Nico Megaludis (57), Jason Nolf (74), Jennifer Page (57), Zain Retherford (65), Kyle Snyder (97) and David Taylor (84).