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|Illinois native Mike Benefiel accomplishes major feat at state tournament|
By Michelle Thilges USA Wrestling
Mike Benefiel could be considered any normal high school senior, with many unknowns in the future.
Benefiel will attend college next year, but doesn't know what his major will be, or what he wants to do with his life after college.
However, two things are for sure.
Mike Benefiel isn't a normal high school senior.
And he will continue his wrestling career beyond high school.
Benefiel has become just the ninth person in Illinois state history to win the state wrestling title all four years of high school. He won the title at 119 pounds, 140 pounds, 152 pounds and 171 pounds. Benefiel is ranked No. 1 nationally at 171 lbs. by Wrestling International Newsmagazine.
"It felt pretty good," said Benefiel. "Coming into high school my main goal was to win all four years at state. This year I finally succeeded in that goal.
"I was really happy. I didn't jump around. I had my arm raised and I looked to the crowed and thought 'This is the last year I will be here.'"
To add to his merits, Benefiel broke two other Illinois state wrestling records. He now holds the title for most wins in a high school career, 195. He also beat out Sean Bormet, his wrestling club coach, by going undefeated this year and breaking the record for most wins in a season.
When he graduates from Montini High School, in Lombard, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, this year, Benefiel will attend Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., next fall.
"It is the best overall fit academically and a great school," said Benefiel. "As far as wrestling, it has a great program, with great wrestling partners and coaches. It is also close to home."
Mike Bukovsky, wrestling coach at Montini High School, said Northwestern is a good fit for Benefiel.
"He felt comfortable with the coaching staff. He will have tremendous drill and wrestling partners, such as Jake Herbert. He felt comfortable with Northwestern, as it has been on the rise the past few years," said Bukovsky.
Benefiel started wrestling when his football little league coach told him to join the team. From there, Benefiel fell in love with the sport.
In his younger years, Benefiel wrestled for several wrestling clubs including Oswego WC, Fox Valley WC and Martinez WC. Benefiel said working with so many clubs helped him specialize in several areas.
"Some clubs focused on takedowns or top positions. Some showed different moves and different wrestling styles. It made me a better wrestler," he said.
Benefiel puts in extra time with Bormet and the Overtime School of Wrestling, where wrestlers such as U.S. World and National Team members Andy Hrovat, Donny Pritzlaff and Clint Wattenberg train. Bukovsky said putting in extra hours has helped Benefiel improve.
"Mike has been working with Sean at Overtime for a number of years. It is a great supplement to the program," he said. "Mike has learned skills to further his advancement in wrestling. My philosophy is the more the merrier. It is a wonderful opportunity and has benefited Mike tremendously. He has also worked hard with an individual trainer to develop his core strength. It has been his plan all along to get better."
Benefiel said working with Bormet has been beneficial.
"Bormet has been huge in developing me. I would not be half the wrestler I am today without him. I have been going to Overtime since I was in sixth grade, 12 years old. He has helped me so much. I owe everything to him. His technique, work ethic and focus have really rubbed off on me," said Benefiel.
In addition to his accomplishments in Illinois, Benefiel has been involved with several national events. He placed seventh last year at the Junior Freestyle Nationals. In 2004, Benefiel won the FILA Cadet Freestyle National Championship and was a Cadet Freestyle All-American in 2003.
"Those are great events to attend," said Benefiel of the national competitions. "They have the best kids in the nation doing their best.
"On the national level you have more diversity that on the state level. On the state level you do one thing. You work on one thing and make it the best you can. At the national level, kids work on everything and you have to be prepared for that."
Bormet said competing on a national level is great experience.
"Any time you step out on to the national level, it opens your eyes," he said. "To me the Junior National level is the hardest to compete in. You have so many matches and if you lose one you can't win the title. Early on, Benefiel saw what it is like to compete on a national level.
"I shared the experiences with Mike that I had at his age group. I told him the people that have success at his age group will have future success at the college and international level. It has kept Mike motivated."
Benefiel said his main goal for college is to become a four-time national champion. Looking further ahead, he would also like to be a part of either the 2012 or 2016 Olympics.
Bukovsky said Benefiel has the capability of accomplishing his goals.
"With wrestling, the sky is the limit. He sets high goals and knows he has to work on the transition to college, just like the adjustment he made at the high school level," said Bukovsky. "Mike has grown so much. He is a leader in the program and has tremendous character. You can't find a better young man. No matter what he does in wrestling, and later in his career and family, he will be successful because of his attitude."
Although Benefiel clocks a lot of time with wrestling he does have time to enjoy other things in life, like his video games.
"I have a new PS3. I waited in line a day and a half to get one. People kept coming up saying they were there before I was. It was a brutal time," he said.
Benefiel said he likes to hang out with his buddies and spent time after school at the bowling alley, playing a few games.
As for now, Benefiel will finish his senior year, knowing what could lie in his future.
"Sean has told me I should only keep wrestling if it is fun and I look forward to it," Benefiel said.
And his thoughts right now?
"It's fun, I love it," he said.