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Wrestling Athlete of Year

Fields once again in a class of his own

Patch's Jaden Fields, right, beat Ramstein's Justin Zapata to take the 145-pound title at the DODDS-Europe wrestling championships in Wiesbaden, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. The Patch senior has been named the 2013-14 Stars and Stripes wrestling Athlete of the Year.

Jaden Fields is a European individual champion in large part because of the program for which the wrestles, the Patch Panthers. And the Panthers are DODDS-Europe Division I champions because of wrestlers like Fields.

“Our hardest competition is ourselves,” Fields said. “You get better wrestling someone who’s just as good, if not better.”

The daily challenge posed by Patch practices has produced scores of European champions over the years, including six this season. But even among that elite company, Fields stands out.

A European champion at 138 pounds in 2013, Fields claimed another European at 145 pounds in 2014. He won all 27 of his matches this season across three weight classes, including 152 and 160 pounds, and earned 23 pins in posting his second consecutive undefeated season.

Furthermore, Fields’ efforts helped Patch relaunch its dynasty atop the DODDS-Europe Division I team ranks after losing last year to Ramstein.

For all those reasons, Fields is the 2013-14 Stars and Stripes wrestling Athlete of the Year.

Fields is the latest in a line of Patch mat phenoms produced in Stuttgart by head coach Norm Matzke and his capable staff of coaches and instructors, a list that includes his older brother, Calen Fields, and last year’s Stars and Stripes wrestling Athlete of the Year, Robert Mannier. But Fields’ list of accolades and accomplishments, and his particular path to DODDS-Europe history, stand on their own.

For Fields, the path to glory started in earnest with a defeat. His loss at the European tournament in 2012 showed the then-sophomore just how difficult it was to wrestle at a championship level. In the wake of that defeat, he made a resolution that defined his prep career.

“Winning isn’t something I can do without trying,” Fields recalled thinking after that defeat, the last he ever suffered in DODDS-Europe competition. “It’s something I have to work for.”

That’s just what he did. He entered that offseason “super-focused,” tore through all available competition in his junior and senior seasons and emerged at the end of his senior season among DODDS-Europe’s most accomplished grapplers.

While Fields credits Patch’s intense competitive environment with helping develop his talent, he’s also done his part in contributing to the Panthers’ likely future successes. His teammates voted Fields team captain this season, and he took the role seriously, practicing with and encouraging as many up-and-coming teammates as he could get his hands on. In short, Fields both benefitted from and perpetuated the culture of accountability and support that has made Patch the class of DODDS-Europe wrestling.

“That’s encouraging just to hear their voices,” Fields said. “I try to provide that for my teammates. I work with as many people as I can. So when I’m yelling at them off the sidelines, they get that motivation.”

On the mat, Fields is precise and methodical, but devastatingly quick when the chance to strike arises. With his DODDS-Europe career complete, he now finds similar opportunities to seize a moment. Fields’ high school exploits have attracted the attention of collegiate wrestling programs, and he expects to choose from among a number of athletic and academic scholarship offers over the next few weeks.

“When I wrestle, I don’t go, ‘OK, I’m going to do this move,’” Fields said. “I take what’s there.”

As his promising career enters its next phase, there’s a lot out there for Fields to take.

broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes

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