Fire in the lungs

Peoria's Bennalley outlasts Ironwood Ridge opponent for state title

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

PRESCOTT, Ariz., Feb. 16,2012

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(Courtesy photo -

Peoria senior Jaimen Bennalley's arm is raised in victory after winning the 220-pound Division II wrestling championship last Saturday at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott, Ariz. Benally beat Lisiate Otuafi of Ironwood Ridge, 7-2, and finished the year with a 37-1 record.

N ot that he needs reminding, but Peoria senior Jaimen Bennalley knows all too well about the daily grinds of becoming a successful wrestler.

"It's a love-hate thing," he said. "I love it when I can come out on top, but in this sport you have to sacrifice a lot and sometimes you have to push yourself to go that extra mile."

For six minutes last Saturday night, Bennalley was fixated on pushing himself, even though he admitted that he had nothing left in his tank, to become the 220-pound Division II state-wrestling champion at the Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott. He finished his season with a 37-1 record.

"It felt like hell, the fire in my lung felt like hell," Bennalley said about the physical strain he endured. "Man, I just had to come out on top."

The Peoria senior defeated Ironwood Ridge wrestler Lislate Otuafi by a 7-2 count in the finals, but that five-point margin was a lot closer than what the final score indicated.

With nearly five-and-half minutes gone by, both wrestlers were in a stalemate with the score tied at 2, but in the last 15 seconds, Bennalley managed to put Otuafi on the mat in a takedown for two points. Then the Peoria senior added another three points with a near fall just as the final whistle blew.

"I put him on his back and I held him there," Bennalley said. "I was looking for the pin, but it wasn't there."

Nonetheless, those 15 seconds culminated a season's worth of sacrifices as Peoria wrestling coach David Garcia was the first to congratulate him.

"Before the start of the tournament Jaimen said he was going to represent the people of the Navajo Nation and I think he represented them very well today," Garcia said. "He did a fabulous job and the thing about him is he's very coachable.

"Throughout the match he was listening to his corner and he did every little thing he needed to do to become a champion," he said.

The longtime Peoria coach said Bennalley had to grind out this match since neither wrestler had a distinct advantage.

"That Ironwood kid had a good defense and Jaimen couldn't do anything on him," Garcia said. "But the goal was to keep working, keep pushing until we found an opening."

That opening didn't take place until the waning moments of the match, but for Garcia he had no recollection of what transpired.

"I don't even know what happened," he said. "I think I had a heart attack because I was shaking, but he kept the intensity up.

"That's what we've been practicing with him all year," Garcia added. "We've been telling him that he had wrestle for six minutes nonstop."

Bennalley was one of two wrestlers that placed for Peoria as the senior scored 28 of his team's 53 points. In his earlier rounds, he finished with two pins and a forfeit.

"He's an exceptional wrestler," Davis said. "It's going to be hard to replace him, but we always have kids that we start from scratch and the goal is get them ready for the season."

Incidentally that was how Bennalley got his start by rising through the ranks of the Panthers' wrestling team.

As a freshman, he didn't make state, but the following years he became a two-time regional champion and on Feb. 4 he added the Division II Section I title to his list of accomplishments.

At state, he placed fifth in the 189-pound category his sophomore year and last year he was third in the 215-pound weight class.

"As the season went on he kept progressing every year and every year I gave him certain things to do in the offseason to get better and he followed through with it," Garcia said. "This year the goal was for him to peak each week and (on Saturday) he pulled it off."

As for future endeavors, Bennalley said he's hoping to wrestle at the next level, but so far there are no takers.

Nonetheless, he's hoping that his latest accomplishment will serve as a steppingstone for future wrestlers.

"I am proud of myself for representing the Navajo Nation," he said. "I hope that the kids on the reservation will use this as an inspiration to come out on top."

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