Wrestler wins state title for Rachel

| March 2, 2015 | 0 Comments
Senior wrestler Lance Benick, left, of Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, squares off against Carson Hagen of Worthington in the Class AA championship at 195 pounds Feb. 28 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Benick won the match 17-7 to capture his fourth state title. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Senior wrestler Lance Benick, left, of Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, squares off against Carson Hagen of Worthington in the Class AA championship at 195 pounds Feb. 28 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Benick won the match 17-7 to capture his fourth state title. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

It took longer than expected, but Totino-Grace High School in Fridley finally delivered a state championship to Rachel Woell, a senior who died of cancer on Sept. 26 during an Eagles football game.

She had been team manager all the way to the end of her battle, with the Eagles dedicating their season to her and almost winning the Super 32 Prep Bowl championship. They fell just short, losing to Eden Prairie 28-27 in the championship game when a 2-point conversion attempt failed.

The player who threw the pass that was knocked away in the end zone, senior quarterback Lance Benick, got a second chance to win a title when he stepped onto the mat at the Xcel Energy Center on Feb. 28 to battle for the 195-pound Class AA championship.

He delivered with a 17-7 win over Carson Hagen of Worthington. He finished the season with a record of 43-0 and is headed to Arizona State in the fall to continue a career that includes four straight state championships in his four years at T-G.

“I knew Rachel pretty well,” Benick said. “Her and my mom [Joanne] actually had a similar brain tumor. I got close with [Rachel] and Yvette and Jamie, her parents. She became the manager of the football team my junior year, and everyone just became very close with her. When we heard she wasn’t doing too well, we started dedicating our football season to her. Then, when she passed when we were playing Maple Grove, it was hard on all of us. We said, ‘We’re doing everything for Rachel,’ and did the same thing for wrestling.”

Unlike during football season, Benick was not the underdog in his championship wrestling match. He had been ranked No. 1 all year, not only in the state, but in the nation. Yet, he downplayed his accomplishments in comparison to what Rachel had to go through.

“Rachel was one of the toughest people I’ve ever met in my life,” Benick said. “At one point, it got so bad she couldn’t even speak. Jamie and Yvette were telling us they would ask her about 20 questions a day. And, she would only answer one, and it was, ‘Do you want to go to football practice?’ And, she went, ‘Yeah.’ So, she was out there every day with Yvette watching football practice, being with — she said — ‘her boys.’ We were her boys and she loved that. And, we loved having her on the field.”

When Benick had finished his final high school wrestling match at the X, he went out with a bang. He did his signature backflip and salute to the crowd and his fans. He is convinced Rachel was there to watch him.

“Wrestling is a tough sport and I know I’ve always got Rachel up top looking down on me,” he said.

Rachel’s mom, Yvette, watched Benick at state, but missed his championship match because of illness. She started going to matches this season after she learned that Benick and other football players also were wrestlters. And, she was deeply touched after learning that her daughter was a source of inspiration to the point that Benick would dedicate his season and his title to her.

“It’s just such a beautiful thing that he did,” Yvette said. “It makes me want to cry. I know they miss her like I miss her. It’s just so beautiful the different ways she’s being remembered and thought about, and how she continues to inspire [others].”

Besides winning for Rachel, Benick also enjoyed being at the state tournament with his team, which finished fourth. And, two other Totino-Grace wrestlers also made it to the individual finals — brothers Jared and Isaac Florell. In fact, they wrestled in the two weight classes before 195 — 170 and 182. Jared, a sophomore at 170, and Isaac, a senior at 182, both lost their matches in the finals. In addition, two other Totino-Grace wrestlers placed in the top five — senior Kez Flomo (fifth at 220) and junior Sam Anderson (fourth at heavyweight).

“It was awesome having all those guys up there,” Benick said. “It was the most we ever had place in team history, five guys. It’s cool having success with other guys and sharing it.”

As for his mother, Benick said she’s cancer free and “doing good.” He wishes the same were true of Rachel, but he is not angry that she died.

That’s where faith comes in.

“I think I’ve gone through so much that I realize God just has a plan for people, and that was God’s plan for Rachel,” he said. “Maybe it helped because we all became closer to each other and prayed and became closer with God.”

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