Westminster’s Lewis finished prep wrestling career as a state champion
By: Warren Mayes
Westminster Christian Academy senior matman Bennett Lewis knew how he wanted to end his wrestling career — as a state champion.
Mission accomplished. Lewis squared off against outmatched Rudy May, of Summit. Lewis dominated in winning 16-1 to win the 195-pound weight class at the recent Missouri state tournament at Mizzou Arena.
Lewis finished undefeated at 53-0. Lewis became the second state champion at Westminster.
“It sunk in almost immediately,” he said about becoming a state champion. “It is a fulfillment and justification of everything that I had done to put me there. All of the training, hard work and sacrifice were instantly justified.
“It also was special to me because it was not just a justification of my efforts, it was a redemption of my failed efforts. For years, the way my seasons have ended have left me unsatisfied and with a bad taste in my mouth with the sport. This result finally washed that taste out.”
In 2012, Lewis finished third. He entered state seeded No. 1 at 220 pounds. But he was pinned in 5 minutes, 45 seconds by Mike Wright, of St. Clair.
Wright went on to finish second. Lewis recorded two pins to finish third but he was not happy.
That drove Lewis to excel this season.
“It motivated me, but it mainly discouraged me and left me really embarrassed and ashamed,” Lewis said. “I more than anything trained after that loss as an effort to distance myself from the embarrassment that I had blown what could have been my only shot.”
What left Lewis feeling so empty was he felt he beat himself.
“It was especially hard to take because it was my own fault,” Lewis said. “I still do not know what happened in that match exactly. The loss was crushing and absolutely embarrassing, especially because it was my own fault, I had absolutely no excuse.
“My pride was destroyed and it was incredibly hard to deal with and to understand why it happened.”
Lewis put in hard work after the season. He worked both mentally and physically to get better.
“I wrestled higher level matches in the offseason. I got to know some really good coaches and picked up some higher level wrestling theory that helped me technically, but I really approached the season in the same way,” Lewis said. “I only changed my approach to training once the season actually started. I think my mental preparation was the biggest gap between me and my opponents this year. It freed me to be 100 percent in the match.”
Going to state, Lewis’ plan to go 4-0 because that’s what it took to be a state champion. Being ranked No. 1 again did not bother him.
“It did not at any added pressure because I approached every match throughout the whole season with a desperate desire to win,” Lewis said. “There was no more pressure to win in match 50 than in match 20.”
Westminster coach Tim Muehleisen said his expectations for Lewis at state were the same.
“I expected him to win,” Muehleisen said. “He was undefeated and wrestling really well. We felt like we could compete with anybody out there.
“His mental preparation was extraordinary. He had trained for how to focus as well as how to wrestle. He was prepared.”
In facing May (30-2) in the final, Lewis met an opponent he had not wrestled before. It didn’t matter.
“I won so dominantly because I was 100 percent in the match. I wrestled free out there,” Lewis said. “I was completely focused and not at all nervous. It was just another match. I would say I wrestled the same in it as I did in any other but that’s not true.
“It was definitely the best match of my career. A big part of my dominance in that match though had to do with how I wrestled. I capitalized immediately on every opportunity and after that relentlessness I was up 7-0 after the first period and I could tell he was broken.”
Muehleisen said Lewis performed up to expectations in the title match.
“It was an impressive match. May is an excellent wrestler and Bennett was at another level,” Muehleisen said. “It was really fun to watch and have a privilege of coaching him.
” It’s all about the technique and the training. He got his technique at the level he needed and then he trained it into his body. He did a ton of work to make this happen.”
With that, Lewis was a state champion at last.
“I don’t remember the immediate thoughts that went through my mind as much as the overwhelming feeling. Immediately after I felt a sense of completion, satisfaction,” Lewis said. “Fulfillment, and redemption. I do remember thinking about how much it was not a let down.”
Lewis is not your stereotypical wrestler. Not many use Earnest Hemmingway references into answers.
There was no letdown in his feelings about winning state. A friend who was on the Westminster state championship volleyball told him she experienced a little letdown after winning.
“I remember soon after I won thinking about the Hemmingway book ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ which I had just read and about how at the main character spends the whole book planning to blow up this bridge and when he finally does it is a giant letdown, which fills him with loneliness anger hatred and unelation,” Lewis said. “I remember thinking both how wrong that girl from my school was and how much unlike that Hemmingway character I felt.”
Everyone was excited for Lewis, Muehleisen said.
“We were all happy for him,” Muehleisen said. “Everyone in the room knows the level that Bennett trains at— he earned it in every way.”
While winning was a “big highlight” Lewis noted there were other highlights to his senior season.
“The real fun parts are always hanging out with the team and doing things like playing dodgeball and cheering at the girls swim meet after practice,” Lewis said.
Now, his prep career is over. It seems unreal, Lewis said, for time to have moved so quickly.
“It went by fast and I wish I had another season,” Lewis said. “Except every time I think that I also think I don’t want another season because that last one went and ended perfectly.”
He will continue wrestling in college. Lewis will attend Washington and Lee in Lexington, Va. It was an easy choice.
“It was just a perfect fit and an amazing opportunity,” Lewis said. “It had everything I was looking for academically, athletically, spiritually, and extra-curricularly.
“I am looking forward to it. It will be difficult to adjust but I really believe I will grow there.”
Muehleisen said Lewis is a special athlete.
“He is a great kid — very well rounded,” Muehleisen said. “He has peculiar interests— he’s a musician and reads a lot. A very neat young man.” The transition to college wrestling is a big one but Muehleisen said he expects Lewis to do well.
“He does have the tools to compete in college. His technique is good,” Muehleisen said. “The speed is what every high school wrestler needs to adjust to, and he has the ability to make those adjustments.”
Muehleisen will miss having Lewis around.
“He’s not replicable. We will use his example to work with our younger kids to show them that this is possible,” Muehleisen said. “It is more work than most high school kids know that their bodies are capable of.”