Bennett Lewis reads Falkner for fun, says Stanley Kubrick is his favorite director and has pondered the philosophical life lessons that wrestling teaches.
The Westminster senior might not be what you’d expect off the mat. On the mat and in the wrestling room he is everything you want and then some. Sitting at a robust 37-0 the 195-pounder is putting together a winter to remember. The 6-foot-2 Lewis knocked off St. Clair’s Matt Gordon to win his division at MICDS’s Eric Lewis Invitational on Saturday.
It was yet another nice win in a string for Lewis, 18, who is chasing a third straight berth in the state meet and his second straight medal. He finished his junior campaign on the medal podium in third-place. Except he entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed.
“I was ranked first all year. I was 49-3 going into state,” Lewis said. “I’d beaten about everyone on the podium. In the semis I lost to a kid I’d already beaten. That wasn’t fun.”
He poured all that frustration and disappointment into his training. A year-round grappler, Lewis traveled around to some of the bigger meets in the offseason to take on the best competition he could find. It was a strategy that resulted in less time on the mat but more time against tougher foes. It’s a strategy that has proven wise to this point.
“The time I had was a higher level of competition. That helped me,” he said. “Getting mat maturity and experience helped me. It helped me beat someone who’s good.”
It also gave him some technical know-how. Lewis said one of the biggest changes in his approach this season has been the way he handles those pressure packed situations where one false step can make or break you. He’s found a level of calm and confidence that allows him to operate in any situation.
“I know how to wrestle a match better; mat awareness, time awareness,” he said. “I picked up technical things.”
Lewis came into this season confident he’d be among the top wrestlers in his weight class. But when the season started and he was being given tough matches by opponents he anticipated wouldn’t be so scrappy, he realized he had to adjust the way he went about his business.
“I’ve started to put together in my mind is I need to have focus. I need to focus on what I’m doing,” he said. “Last year I wasn’t focused on winning the match, when things went bad I didn’t know how to respond.”
This year he’s responded to every test with victories. Not that Lewis is counting. When asked he wasn’t sure what his record was, he just knew he hadn’t been beaten. He wants to win every match he wrestles but by no means does he have to have a perfect season to be happy with this year. For him a perfect season is one that ends atop the podium at the state meet.
“The only time it matters going undefeated is at state. Everything is just preparation until then,” he said. “I could go undefeated and lose at state and it wouldn’t mean anything. But if I took losses during the year and go 4-0 at state that would mean more.”
Lewis began his wrestling career in seventh grade. He had always enjoyed roughhousing as a kid and when he was introduced to the sport he was instantly interested. He began training at a local gym that offered jujitsu and boxing lessons. And he was hot and heavy for jujitsu for a spell but once he entered high school wrestling consumed him.
The unique aspects of the sport are fascinating to Lewis. His interest was particularly piqued by the idea of one man and his skill set against another man and his skill set. Let the best man that day win.
“It’s just you on the mat with another guy. You’re in a singlet. There’s nothing else. You’re exposed,” he said. “You can’t make excuses. It’s you versus another guy and whoever is better wins.”
As the season has gone on Lewis has adjusted his own pre-match philosophy. His focus has improved but so has the way he mentally prepares himself. He goes into every match with the mindset that it’s going to be hard.
“This year, before matches, I just take my time and focus. I tell myself ‘You don’t know how hard it’s going to be until afterwards,’” he said
Lewis will continue his wrestling career at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.