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It’s all about ability on mats as Kenston grappler Benz excels

Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
January 24, 2019
Tony Lange

Most of the holds known in present-day wrestling go back some 15,000 years through cave drawings, which depict hand-to-hand combat systems that make a case for grappling to be the oldest sport known to man.

The idea of two humans imposing their physical will upon each other has basically gone unchanged, with literary references to it occurring as early as the Old Testament.

And although the forms and rules of the sport have developed and been modified over time, the concepts of throws, takedowns, joint locks and pins have roots back to its origins.

Despite those constants, Kenston 140-pound sophomore Maison Benz, a varsity wrestler for the Bomber matmen in the 145-pound weight class, has been forced to adapt and tailor his techniques since he began competing in third grade.

“I was born with one arm, so, yeah, I’ve been wrestling my whole life with one arm,” he said. “Well, the biggest difficulty is when we’re going over moves. I have to kind of tweak the moves so I can do it with just one hand. And my dad’s helped me a lot with learning new moves that only require one hand to use them.

“I’ve gotten pretty good at a few moves that I use a lot, mostly like headlocks and stuff like that. But now I’m trying to spread my moves out, and I’m trying to use different moves during my matches.”

Benz’s father, who wrestled in his heyday at Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin, coached him and younger brother Lucian Benz, a 120-pound freshman, through the Kenston youth wrestling program and still provides his boys direction at the high school level.

Also, Benz works with fellow sophomore drilling partner Jason Spehar in the rooms, as well as with Kenston third-year head coach Ricky Deubel, a 2004 Bomber graduate and two-time state champion, during varsity practices.

“It’s tough, because you’re used to two arms, but, over the past year and half, I’m starting to figure out how he’s wrestling,” Deubel said. “So, it’s kind of helping me adjust to the moves that will work for him.”

Benz can basically still hit all the moves as other matmen; it’s just a matter of hitting them a little bit differently and working on the techniques that fit him best, Deubel said.

“It’s just, he has half an arm so he can’t wrap as good as he can on a single leg or a double,” the coach said. “He can do it, it’s just adjusting to his ability. When I work with him, I try to show a move, and I try to grab up by my triceps, because that’s where he can grab. So, I try to figure it out – what can I do if I don’t have this limb? So, I visualize it and try to help him with that. But everything I try teaching he tries doing.”

Although Benz was born with half of a left arm that extends up to his elbow, his disability has never slowed him down in the physical sport of wrestling, including a trip to states in sixth grade.

Most recently, Benz was one of four Kenston varsity wrestlers to place during the 32nd Bill Dies Memorial Tournament on Friday and Saturday at Firestone High School in Akron, where the Bombers finished ninth overall among 36 teams.

“The tournament was a really hard tournament, but I think a lot of our guys did better than what was expected,” Benz said. “I think we placed ninth, so that was way better than we expected, because we don’t have a lot of guys. So, I thought we did really well. And all my team is really supportive of me, and we’re all really close. We hang out all the time.”

Kenston 160-pound senior Joe Koplow (22-4), who is ranked No. 14 among Division I grapplers in the state, according to Boro Fan Ohio, was a tournament champion, with a 5-4 decision in his semifinal bout against Streetsboro’s Division II No 10-ranked senior Chris Anderson, before winning his title bout by a 12-2 major against Parma’s Gavin Ziol.

Also, Kenston 138-pound senior Seth Samidan (19-10) finished fourth with a 4-2 victory against Rootstown’s Division III No. 8-ranked senior Trent Duvall in his consolation semifinal, while Kenston 152-pound senior Dylan Sosnoswsky (22-8) took fourth with a competitive 6-1 loss against Madison Division I No. 18-ranked senior Shayne Magda.

And 145-pounder Benz kept a short memory from an opening-round loss by wrestling back with four straight wins in the consolation bracket to place eighth in a loaded weight class of four Division I state-ranked wrestlers and one Division II state-ranked wrestler at the tournament. He improved his varsity record to 15-9 this season.

“After the first one, I just try to think of what I did wrong and how to improve off of that,” Benz said. “And then I just wrestled it one match at a time and just try and get as far as I can go.”

Benz responded with a 14-2 major decision against Green’s Alex Henry, a second-period pin against Parma’s King-David Mweke and then a 4-2 nail-biter decision against Canfield freshman Michael Crawford.

Crawford owned a 2-1 lead on Benz entering the third period, thanks to a reversal that Benz was able to escape from in the middle frame. Benz then escaped from the down position to open the third period and executed a winning takedown with three seconds remaining in the match to help propel him to the placement bouts.

Benz said he has a couple go-to moves in his tight matches.

“Well, my biggest move is probably the front headlock, because I can react really high up on my arms, so it’s really tight for them,” he said. “And also the Merkle is one of my best moves, because not many people know how to defend it, and also a gator roll from the front headlock. I’m pretty good at that, because my grip is pretty strong.”

Benz lost a 14-4 major decision against Midview Division I No. 14-ranked junior Andrew Philion in the fifth round of consolation matches, before going on to place eighth.

Benz also placed eighth during his home Kenston Invitational Tournament on Dec. 29, with a full-period ride and a pin in front of his fans. His quarterfinal loss came against Strongsville Division I No. 12-ranked senior Ben Blickle.

“I’ve never seen the kid mad. He’s always smiling,” coach Deubel said of Benz. “But, when he’s on the mat, he doesn’t care who he’s wrestling. He just goes after it and tries to score points. He could be down, 14-0, and he’s still going after him.

“In his quarterfinal match (of the KIT), that kid was ranked pretty high in the state at 145, and that kid could barely walk off the mat, and he had beat Maison, 16-1. That’s just how much Maison never stops wrestling. He crushes kids’ cardio and just goes, goes, goes. And that’s why I like him. He’s disciplined and determined. He wants to win every match, and he always wants to score points. He’s a go-getter.”

Benz split time between junior varsity and varsity as a freshman last season, wrestling behind Kenston state qualifier Nick Nastasi, who has been sidelined by a bum shoulder for the majority of this season.

But now placing at two tournaments so far this season, Benz said fellow grapplers are starting to take notice.

“Some kids don’t really know what to do against me,” he said. “They go out thinking I have a disability and that it’s going to be a pretty easy match for them. But I’ve been around the sport for a while, so they’re starting to pick it up, and they know that I’m not anything bad. So, some kids, when I beat them, they’re not too bummed out about it.”

In addition to wrestling, Benz also plays football and lacrosse, not to mention he played some soccer, basketball and baseball in his youth.

And although the sports of cross-country, track or even bowling might put him at less of a disadvantage against opponents, those just aren’t his passions.

“I’m a pretty physical person,” Benz said. “That’s why I wrestle.”

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