Once he became a collegiate wrestler, Dalton Jensen knew his future would be in coaching.
After four years of being an assistant coach at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, Jensen was named head coach of the program in August.
“This is what I feel I have a calling for,” the 28-year-old Jensen said. “I can’t imagine myself not being involved in the sport.”
He will be succeeding Marc Bauer, who guided the Lopers to three NCAA Division II titles and five national runner-up finishes in 17 years.
Jensen plans to continue the tradition that Bauer built with the program. He’ll also have help from Bauer, who will be a part-time assistant coach while he teaches in Nebraska-Kearney’s kinesiology and sport sciences department and pursues a doctorate in interdisciplinary leadership at Creighton University.
Jensen believes Bauer’s presence will smooth the transition to a new head coach.
“Coach Bauer never has his ego in the mix,” Jensen said. “He never has. He has run one of the most successful NCAA wrestling programs at any level for more than a decade. He wants me to be successful. He wants me to make it mine and put a mark on the program.”
Jensen already has done his share to make Nebraska-Kearney a national wrestling power. As a senior in 2012, he was the 141-pound NCAA champion and helped the Lopers capture their second national championship. The next season, with Jensen as an assistant coach, Nebraska-Kearney won another Division II title.
Before transferring to Nebraska-Kearney for his last two years of eligibility, Jensen wrestled at Iowa State University, where he was coached by Cael Sanderson and Kevin Jackson. Sanderson was the coach who originally signed Jensen to wrestle for the Cyclones. However, after Sanderson departed to coach at Pennsylvania State University, Jensen eventually made the decision to change schools.
“It was the second time around for me in terms of being recruited,” said Jensen, who grew up in Missouri Valley, Iowa. “I was looking for a long-term deal where I could be on a staff at some point. I remembered coach Bauer during the recruiting phase when I was coming out of high school, and I really liked everything he was doing with his program.”
Being in his 20s, Jensen knows many consider him young for a head coach. But he figures the experiences he’s had as a student-athlete and coach have prepared him.
“I’ve been lucky because I’ve had Cael Sanderson, Kevin Jackson and Marc Bauer as coaches,” Jensen said. “At the time, I didn’t probably realize the benefits of that, but looking back, I had three great guys to learn from. Most people don’t have opportunities like that. Coach Bauer allowed me to make executive decisions and take ownership. He gave me that feeling, and I feel I am ready to lead this program.”