Zac Benton was trying to hold onto three things at the end of the 138-pound championship match Saturday at the WIAA Division 1 Green Bay West wrestling sectional.
The Ashwaubenon senior succeeded in keeping a lead to secure an 8-6 victory over Pulaski sophomore Jake Gille to win his first sectional title and advance back to the individual state tournament for a second straight year.
But Benton failed miserably at keeping a pair of cotton plugs in his nostrils as time expired in the match.
“I hope somebody got a picture of that because he looked like J.J. Watt with blood running down his face when they were raising his hand,” Ashwaubenon wrestling coach Jody Van Laanen said.
Van Laanen, however, was more pleased to see Benton (37-9) wrestle like his old self again.
Green Bay Preble/East’s Casey Nelson is all smiles after pinning Bay Port’s Ben Kitslaar in the 182-pound championship match during Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 wrestling sectionals at Green Bay West High School.
Benton advanced to sectionals for a fourth time last week by placing second at the Green Bay Preble regional. But he lost a 3-1 decision to Gille in the first-place match.
“Zac didn’t seem like he had that hunger like he did last year when he got just possessed,” Van Laanen said.
Benton worked heavily on being aggressive and shooting this week in practice to return to form.
“They were telling me that I looked really slow and I wasn’t the same wrestler as last year,” Benton said. “I had to have a different mindset because I needed more confidence this week.”
Benton appeared to get that confidence back in his semifinal match Saturday against De Pere sophomore Trevor Turriff, who led 5-4 late in the third period.
Benton tied the match when he was awarded a penalty point. But instead of being content with going to overtime, he made a quick strike for a takedown to win a 7-5 decision.
“We talked a lot about how this time of year everybody is hungry,” Van Laanen said. “You have to find that sense of urgency.”
Benton never has trouble finding inspiration on the wrestling mat. He advanced to state last year a little more than a month after his older brother, Derek, had died.
On Saturday, Benton’s mom was in the stands gripping Derek’s old headgear as she watched her son hold on for a victory with a late reversal following a takedown by Gille, who advanced to state for the first time.
“I always loved wrestling, but there was never really any personal gain for me,” Benton said. “(Derek’s death) really flipped the switch, though. He’s always my motivation.”
Benton was one of two Ashwaubenon wrestlers to advance to state. Senior Vic Perez qualified for the first time by winning a wrestleback match at 170 with a technical fall over Bay Port’s Landis Hanson.
Benton feels the support of a teammate and other friends who qualified will help him at state this year. He lost his only match last season at the Kohl Center in Madison.
“Last time I was really nervous and really scared because there was nobody else on my team,” Benton said. “I didn’t really get to talk to anybody. I kind of just sat there by myself and stretched. This year I have a lot of friends … so I won’t be alone this year.”