Mike Benefiel's collegiate career has been anything but dull. The highs and lows have stretched through six years and five schools. However, it appears that the former Montini star and four-time high school state champion has found his home at Elmhurst College.
Ranked fifth in the country in Division III, Benefiel is part of a senior class that coach Steve Marianetti said has led the Bluejays to a No. 2 national ranking. Marianetti's relationship with the wrestler reaches back to Benefiel's high school days when he was on Team Illinois coached by Marianetti.
"Mike's been great," Marianetti said. "I've known him since high school and always had a great relationship with him. I've tried to take some of the pressure off of him this year and get him to just have fun with wrestling and compete."
The journey to Elmhurst started at Northwestern, where Benefiel spent roughly a year and a half. After redshirting his first year, Benefiel only wrestled for part of his freshman season before being asked to leave the team for breaking team rules. The Aurora native left Northwestern and finished the school year at St. Louis Community College-Meramec.
Benefiel planned on transferring to another Division I university, but due to strict NCAA transfer regulations he was first forced to register for classes at Northern Oklahoma College. After a short stay Benefiel transferred again, this time to Oklahoma State. During his two seasons at OSU, Benefiel went 51-14 and twice reached the Big 12 finals.
However, the fit still wasn't right, and after his junior season Benefiel took a break from college all together. Knowing he still had a year of eligibility left, Marianetti reached out to Benefiel and convinced him to come to Elmhurst.
"His brother wrestled for me at Elmhurst and his mother went to school here so my connections with the family were solid," Marianetti said. "I just said, 'Hey, you got another year in you and you need to finish your degree and wrestling career the right way.'"
After working off some early season rust Marianetti said Benefiel looks excited and back in the swing of things. There are a number of reasons for a more relaxed looking Benefiel, Marianetti said. In addition to a decreased workload, Marianetti convinced Benefiel to wrestle at 197 pounds so he wouldn't have to always worry about cutting weight.
The adjustments have proved successful. Benefiel is 13-2 on the season.