Lance Benick battles UW-Eau Claire's Ramsey Bloy (Photo/Don Stoner, Augsburg University)
He scored one takedown.
And then another.
It was just his second match back, after not competing in more than a year, but Lance Benick was on a roll.
The Augsburg University freshman was piling up points and flashing the tenacity, explosiveness and resolve that made him one of the nation's most prized recruits.
Then reality started setting in.
"I remembered how hard wrestling a live match was," he said with a laugh.
Benick glanced at the scoreboard and was surprised at what he saw.
There was still a minute and a half left.
In the first period.
"I looked at the clock," he said. "and I said, 'Oh my God, I'm going to die.'"
Benick powered through that bout, holding off seventh-ranked Tyler Vittal of North Central 9-8, on his way to helping lead Augsburg University to the team title at last month's National Duals in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Now ranked ninth nationally in NCAA Division III at 197 pounds, Benick has a 6-3 record after joining the Auggies team after Christmas.
He dropped a 4-3 decision to No. 6 Michael DiNardo of Johnson & Wales at the National Duals. He went 2-1 in that event.
"The transition to Augsburg has gone really smoothly," Benick said. "Everybody has been really helpful."
Lance Benick gets his hand raised after winning his fourth state title (Photo/Mary Christen, The Guillotine)
A four-time Minnesota state high school champion who also made a U.S. Cadet World Team, the 6-foot-1 Benick was ranked No. 1 nationally as a senior at Totino-Grace High School.
He was a highly sought after recruit who signed with Arizona State. He redshirted during a challenging first season at ASU.
Benick then returned home to Minnesota and even contemplated giving up the sport.
"After a long Division I grind season, I was ready for a break," he said. "I took a month and a half off from wrestling. I was missing it after the time off."
Benick spent a year taking classes at a community college in Minnesota before enrolling at Augsburg. He continued to work out and wrestle, but did not compete during that time.
"Obviously, Lance has been away from a training schedule for a while and there was a big transition for him when he came here," Augsburg coach Jim Moulsoff said. "He's adjusting to his schedule academically and his schedule for training for college wrestling. He's fit right in with our team and he's doing a great job for us."
Benick joined a perennial powerhouse program in Augsburg, which has won 12 national titles in Division III. The Auggies are ranked No. 1 this season and they are seeking their first national title since 2015.
"It's a Division III program, but there are still some really good wrestlers at this level," Benick said. "We have guys on our team with Division I talent who could start or definitely wrestle on a DI team. We have some excellent wrestlers and most of my teammates are Minnesota guys that I already knew. It's been really fun to be a part of this team already."
Lance Benick with his mother Joanne and father Tom
Benick also is part of a tight-knit family. He has a close bond with his mother, Joanne, who has battled brain cancer.
"My mom is doing great," Lance said. "She's been cancer free for the last three years. I remember they told her she only had a week to live, but she never gave up and she fought through it. She's doing really well now. She's been through so much and she's been a big inspiration in my life.
"The struggles you go through in wrestling are so small compared to life and what my mom has battled through. It's pretty impressive what she's done."
Moulsoff said Benick has found an ideal fit on the Augsburg campus in Minneapolis.
"Lance is very close to his family," Moulsoff said. "For any college student, that first year is very, very challenging. Compound that with moving a couple thousand miles from home and the demands of being a student-athlete at a Division I program -- that's a lot for anybody.
"Being back closer to his family in Minnesota has helped him immensely, and allowed him to regroup academically and athletically here at Augsburg."
Benick said being back in his home state has enabled him to regain his focus, on and off the mat.
"Being back home, it's made a big difference for me," he said. "It's really nice to be around my family. They've been really supportive. And I have a bunch of close friends who support me as well."
Even though Benick just started competing again, he's already aiming high in his first season at Augsburg.
"My goal is to be a national champion," he said, "Anything short of that would be a disappointment to me."
Moulsoff is impressed with what Benick brings to the mat.
"Lance is a very, very talented wrestler," Moulsoff said. "He has a great feel for the sport. He's very athletic and he can score big points in bunches when he needs to. He's been a great addition to our lineup."
Lance Benick is currently ranked No. 9 at 197 pounds in Division III (Photo/Don Stoner, Augsburg University)
Benick also hasn't given up on even bigger aspirations he's set for himself. He has trained in freestyle wrestling with Minnesota Storm.
"I would still like to make a World Team on the Senior level in freestyle," he said. "You don't see a lot of Division III guys do that, but I still have high goals for myself. I believe I can be successful on the international level."
For now, Benick is focused on preparing for the final weeks of the college season. In his most recent match, Benick led for nearly the entire bout before dropping a 5-4 decision to No. 2 Kyle Fank of Wartburg last Thursday night.
"The biggest key for me is to keep progressing," he said. "Coming back, I've had to adjust to making weight again for the first time in over a year. And I need to keep working my way into shape. Conditioning is an issue, and I'm still struggling with it. It was really rough when I first competed again. I'm doing extra work after practice and I have another month to get myself in shape. I'm getting there.
"I am getting the feel back for wrestling and I just need to keep improving. It's fun being out there and being able to compete again. It's great to be back."
This story also appears in the Feb. 9 issue of The Guillotine. The Guillotine has been covering wrestling in Minnesota since 1971. Its mission is to report and promote wrestling at all levels -- from youth and high school wrestling to college and international level wrestling. Subscribe to The Guillotine.