Moments after he won the school's first NJCAA National Championship in wrestling, Valdosta's Jamel Sharp, center, snapped off a photo and sent it the The Herald from Des Moines, Iowa, where he won the crown in the 125-pound division, going a perfect 5-0. He is joined by head coach James Hicks, right, and assistant coach Albert White.
DES MOINES, Iowa — Jamel Sharp stood in the center of the mat, his arm raised and his dreams coming true.
The Darton freshman and Valdosta native made history Saturday, but all Sharp could think about was his journey to the top moments after winning an NJCAA national title in the 125-pound weight class, giving the Cavs their first national championship in the five-year history of their program.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening. It was a moment I always dreamed of,” Sharp told The Herald by telephone late Saturday night when asked what was going through his mind as he was declared an 8-2 winner against Nassau (N.Y.) Community College’s John Pellegrino in the championship match. “I was thinking, ‘I did it. I did it for all of my supporters and everybody who helped me along the way.’ ”
Sharp capped a two-day championship tournament in which he went 5-0 and wasn’t challenged in any match, winning four of his bouts by at least six points and pinning Tim Prescott of Neosho County (Kan.) in less than two minutes in Saturday morning’s semifinals.
It was an incredible run for the freshman — but it was a streak that first-year Darton coach James Hick saw coming.
“He prepared well for this, and when he got here he had the mentality that no one in this tournament could beat him,” Hicks said. “He wrestled that way. Nobody came close to even touching him.”
The Valdosta High grad and former AAAAA state champ who went 52-1 as a senior and didn’t lose to anyone in Georgia, finished the season 30-1 overall — the best record in the nation in his weight class — with his only loss coming in November to Division I Campbell University. He was one of five Darton wrestlers to make this year’s nationals, but he was the only one to advance past the second round.
“I was just looking down at my teammates and smiling as I stood on the podium (to accept the championship medal),” Sharp said. “It was an unbelievable feeling. It’s something that I will never forget.”
It was also an emotional moment for Hicks, who was named Darton’s coach — the program’s third in the span of less than a year — late in the summer and was forced to put together a makeshift team just one month before classes started.
“I feel very fortunate. It feels like the stars aligned for us,” Hicks said. “I’m happy about winning a national title, but at the same time I know there is more work to be done because we want to win a team title in the future.
“This means a lot for our program. It’s a good starting point. We are going to be very aggressive in recruiting, and this is something that we are going to be able to take to kids and tell them that we have a national champion. It’s huge for us and huge for the other guys on the team to see him get this.”
Sharp cruised through his three matches Friday, winning, 12-5, 18-5 and 9-2 to enter the semifinals. His pin in 1:54 in the semifinals lifted him to the finals against Pellegrino, who he barely beat, 3-2, in the district finals earlier in the month but ran circles around Saturday.
“I was pretty much just dominating on my feet and doing what I was good at,” Sharp said. “This weekend I didn’t change my style and just wrestled the Darton way.”