When it comes to wrestling at Medomak Valley High School there is one name that sits atop all others: Erik Benner.

The 18-year-old senior polished off his final season by increasing his school records, while pinning down more championships.

A year after Benner won the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, Class B South, Class B state and All-State – or New England qualifier — championships at 285 pounds, the Friendship native collected an All-State title at 195 pounds, along with second-place finishes at the Class B South, Class B state and KVAC meets.

"My senior year was full of mixed emotions," said Benner. "One second I was ready for it be over, but the next second I still wanted to do better than my junior year, which was hard to beat.

"The sport is really intense and takes up a lot of time during the winter. It’s six days a week and all day Saturdays. Snowmobiling is my favorite thing to do so it kind of sucks sometimes. I can only wrestle for so long so I do it while I can."

Building off junior year

Benner's junior campaign could not have gone any better.

The then 17-year-old won all the major events he competed in, but failed to win a match at the New England championships in his first appearance.

Benner, who rarely has been pinned by foes in recent years, also set the school's season win (55), pin (38) and point (351) totals in 2019, and this year broke Elias Miller's school record of 169 career victories with 177 — to go along with 113 career pins — while he also broke his own school record of wins in a season with 56, to go with 38 pins for the second consecutive year.

Additionally, he hit the 150th win mark this season on Jan. 15, and one week later captured his 100th pin on Jan. 22.

"By having the career[-year] I had my junior year, it gave me the confidence that I could hang with anyone and no one was unbeatable," he said. "It also gave me bigger goals, which made me push myself harder."

Despite the harder push in the 2019-2020 campaign, Benner did not capture a conference, regional or state title.

"I lost at states by one point and regionals by three points, which hurt, [both of which was] to Jonah Potter of Wells. I did win All-States, though, and that was what I really wanted, and I beat [Potter] who beat me the other two times. I ended up pinning him in the second period."

The losses at the postseason championships he captured last season were a shock to not just him, but others in his family and teammate circle.

"Having the pressure to win didn’t make it as fun," Benner said. "After I lost regionals, everyone, even my parents, were in shock. I had one of my close friends and teammates tell me to watch me lose hurt him more than it did me. But, it is what it is.

"I don’t really care what everyone else thinks of me as a wrestler. I care about what I think as a wrestler, and I let myself down more then anyone when I lose a match or mess up. No one is harder on me than me. I don’t like to lose. I actually hate it, so I guess it did motivate me some."

The victory at All-States propelled Benner back to New Englands where he made his first appearance in 2019, when he failed to win a match.

This year, though, was different.

"New Englands was a completely different place than past years," he said. "Last year it was held in Rhode Island, which was huge and spread out like it always has been, and this year it was held in Methuen, Mass. The place was cramped and small. I can’t even describe how hot it was in there, and add [that] to the fear of the coronavirus, it wasn’t ideal.

"Last year I lost both matches. My goal this year was to win a match there and that’s exactly what I did. I had a first-round bye, then I got pinned by [Shawn Conniff of King Phillip, Mass.] in the third [period], [which] was my first time being pinned in two years. After the match I knew I couldn’t let myself lose another one.

"I then wrestled and pinned [Booker Lester of Saint John's, Mass.] in the second period, and I knew then I was ready to compete for third place. Next up was [Jadian Mackenzie of New London, Conn.] and I ended up beating him 2-1, which was a close battle.

"Finally, I had to wrestle [Darby McLaughlin of Springfield Central, Mass.] — which was the number one [wrestler] from Mass. I was holding my own until I got a little too cautious about giving up any points, then ended up getting pinned with four seconds left in the second period."

At the end of the event, Benner finished 2-2, "which was a big improvement" over his 0-2 from the previous year, he said.

195 and reflection

Benner's senior year brought with it a new challenge, namely, a new weight class — in fact, a significant drop of division of nearly 100 pounds. He wrestled at 285 last year and dropped to 195 this year.

"I went 195 this year because there were two of us that were in the 220 weight class and the coaches thought it would be good if I went 195," he said. "I was alright with going [to] 195, plus they thought I would shock everyone and they thought I’d do better at New Englands. I also respect my coaches and if that’s what they want then that’s what I’ll try to do.

"It was easy to get there, but not so fun to maintain. I was always dieting, which was what sucked since I like food so much. I had to watch everything I ate and was always on the scale checking my weight."

With the season in the rear view mirror, Benner — who will continue to lobster fish after graduation — wishes he had wrestled more in his younger years "instead of sixth through 12th grades."

"Most kids get burnt out, so at the same time, I’m glad I didn’t, other than that, I wish I'd wrestled some matches differently," he said. "I wouldn’t change much within reason [because] everything happens for a reason."

Despite Benner not starting his wrestling career until sixth grade, he became one of the best in MVHS history, if not the best based on his career numbers.

"I don't know if I’d say I’m the best wrestler in school history," he said. "There have been a couple of wrestlers that have won more state titles than me, and they didn’t have as many matches or opportunities as I did, but knowing I am the most successful one in the past 20-plus years is very cool. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back to the school in many years and still see my name up there as one of the best In history."

The finishing touches of Benner's senior year were wiped from the schedule due to COVID-19, or coronavirus, as it was not just for him, but senior classes around the state, country and world.

"Let me first say I am very fortunate to be able to finish out my senior year of sports and do feel bad for the kids that play spring sports," said Benner, also a an all-conference offensive and defensive lineman for the MVHS football team who will represent the Panthers in the 31st annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic, set for Saturday, July 18 at Thornton Academy in Saco. "The lockdown has been extremely boring, but it has given me plenty of time to work which is nice.

"I don’t miss the school work, [but] I do miss hanging with friends. It really does suck for all of us seniors that have worked hard for the fun and memories that will last for a lifetime. I’m half homeschooled so I got told by Medomak [Valley] I won’t be [able] to march with my class, so not having graduation would be kinda bittersweet to me. I was looking forward to the class trip and the lobster bowl, which, hopefully, those both still happen, but who knows."