A lesson in perseverance

DES MOINES – Drew Bennett found himself at the familiar state tournament crossroads.

Fort Dodge’s second-ranked 106-pounder had just dropped a crushing triple-overtime decision in the Class 3A quarterfinals to No. 1 Kyle Biscoglia of Waukee. His state championship dreams had been dashed in deflating fashion, and the backside of the bracket – often the loneliest home for a legitimate title contender like Bennett – suddenly beckoned.

The wrestleback rounds are a physical letdown and a mental trap. Many quality grapplers have fallen victim to the snowball effect, where one loss beats them twice.

Bennett, a 41-3 sophomore making his Wells Fargo Arena debut, had a choice to make just seconds after a match that could have literally gone either way.

”Of course I was disappointed, but what can you do?” said Bennett, who is now three overtime losses away from being undefeated. ”It was over. I had to move on and do whatever I could to help (the Dodgers) on the backside. After all, that’s where team championships are won.”

Instead of checking out, Bennett went right back to the grind. He dominated Jacob Close of Western Dubuque by technical fall, then pinned Dubuque’s Hempstead’s sixth-rated Dillon Gottschalk in 3:09.

Once again, Bennett had handled adversity like a seasoned veteran.

”I’m just so proud of Drew for being resilient instead of throwing in the towel,” FDSH head coach Bobby Thompson said. ”I never, for one second, expected anything less, knowing his mentality. To lose such a big match in controversial fashion – that would take a lot out of even the best competitors. But Drew knows how to handle himself. Even though this is his first trip (to Des Moines), he’s no stranger to this kind of stage.”

The Dodgers are a close second heading into the final day of competition, six points behind defending champion Southeast Polk. Bennett could place as high as third with two more victories.

It’s not Saturday night under the lights, the way he’d envisioned, but Bennett is now zoned in on the next best thing.

”Wrestling helps you realize that everything isn’t going to go your way all the time,” said Bennett, who served as an understudy to state champion Brody Teske at 106 last season despite a 12-3 varsity record and a decorated AAU career. ”All I can control is how hard I work and my attitude. I’ve learned a lot about myself through the challenges I’ve already faced.”

The support of friends and family also help Bennett find perspective.

”(Fort Dodge wrestlers and coaches) are always there to pick each other up and be supportive no matter what,” Bennett said. ”Win or lose, you have to just keep focused on the next step. It’s hectic down here, but very fun.

”It helps, too, to get a text after a tough loss from my grandpa (Mike Bennett). They’re always heartfelt, and they mean more to me than he could ever know.”

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net