The junior high wrestling team at Salt River High School is working hard this preseason. For some wrestlers, learning the fundamentals has proved to be challenging, while others are returning athletes who are looking to improve this season. Head coach Simon Smith said his team is learning the sport and is making progress.
Eighth-grade student Lavell Benally began wrestling just last year. Although he was familiar with the sport, having several members of his family compete as wrestlers, he had never experienced the sport himself.
“I got into wrestling to give it a try and see how good I could be,” he said.
Benally said he has learned a lot, but what is most impressive is the journey he has endured to his success.
“I have lost all of my bad habits; wrestling has taught me discipline. Before I was really lazy, and now I am fit,” Benally explained. “Since I have been wrestling, I know the things I am not supposed to do, because this program requires good education, smartness and discipline. My brother taught me discipline, and I have grown smarter.”
Benally said wrestling is extremely enjoyable and he likes the feeling he gets after his workouts. He said you feel good when you finish and you know your body is going to be healthy. Benally explained that sometimes he feels like he does not want to keep working, but he pushes himself to keep going.
“With the workout you know you have done something good; it feels good to know you are done and you have finished your work,” he said. “It pays off.”
There are several new wrestlers on this year’s junior high team, and Benally said when they struggle on drills or conditioning, he pushes them and encourages them to keep going.
Smith is a knowledgeable coach and Benally believes he has a good grasp on how to deal with the team.
“Some coaches scream at you to drill it into your mind, and some coaches talk to you and don’t scream,” he said. “But our coach tells us first, and if we don’t listen, then he yells at us to get our attention, and that is when we start doing what we need to do.”
With one year under his belt, Benally said most of what he knows is muscle memory, but he is still learning new takedowns. As an individual last year, Benally said he did not perform very well.
“In the beginning it was pretty rough, but towards the end I worked my way and pushed myself, and in the end I earned a second-place finish in the tournament,” he said.
Benally said his goal this year is to lose as much weight as he can and to place in more tournaments, as well as qualify for state. He said one challenge he faces this year is getting acclimated to the running, because he knows it helps him tremendously on the mat and he is looking forward to seeing how far he can go.
“Coming in, I knew I needed to lose weight and get fit, and I have dreamed I would accomplish all I have,” he said.