Ben Andrew could have taken an easier route, but it just isn’t his mindset.
The decision to take on the best, and come out on top, paid off in one of the state’s best out-of-nowhere performances.
Along the way to the Division I 220-pound title, and being named the Tribune Wrestler of the Year, the Mesa junior knocked off four state champions, who hold six state titles between them, to become one himself.
Not bad for someone who never placed at state in his only other appearance.
It started before the regular season even began when he trained all summer with former Mesa state champion Andy Jay to prepare for the Border Wars qualifier at Arizona State.
He could have gone heavyweight instead of a loaded 220-pound weight class. Mesa coach Bobby Williams gave Andrew the option and wasn’t surprised by the answer he received.
“He was pretty hungry after not placing at state as a sophomore,” Williams said. “He felt like he hadn’t done enough and worked really hard to make sure he didn’t feel like that again.”
In the first round, he beat Peoria’s Jaimen Bennalley, who won the Division II title this year after finishing third last year, 9-6, and then in the semifinals Andrew beat Desert Vista two-time state champion Alex Bambic, 5-3.
He went on to win the event to represent the state very well, considering he knocked off a Colorado two-time state champion in the process, in the tournament that brought teams from the five states that border Arizona to the ASU campus.
It was all Andrew, who missed placing at state by one match as a sophomore, who needed to set up the regular season.
And it all started with a decision to take the hard way.
“At the time I thought Bambic was going to go 220,” Andrew said of the decision to wrestle 220 at the qualifier. “I knew if I was going to win to state I was going to have to beat him at some point, so I went 220 instead of heavyweight.”
Turns out Bambic ended up going 195, but Sunnyside returning state champion Cedric Gonzalez was at 220.
Gonzalez entered the state tournament as the top seed at 26-0 and Andrew was the second seed at 41-1.
Andrew, whose lone defeat was against Bennalley in the Moon Valley Invite finals, did a great job of fending off Gonzalez’ shot attempts in the first period as it ended scoreless.
He opened the second with an escape, and got a takedown using his best move (shuck) for a 3-0 lead. He pushed it to 5-0 before Gonzalez wound up having to disqualify because he ran out of time to stop blood and couldn’t continue.
“I was pretty nervous waiting for our match, but I was fine once it got going,” he said. “When I started to realize that I was going to win it because he couldn’t wrestle anymore, I was pretty pumped.”
He wasn’t exactly pumped about the sport when he started out in the seventh grade, only because one of his friends wanted him to do it with him. A few short months later, he won the city tournament.
Andrew was hooked.
“I loved it and wanted to be more,” Andrew said. “(Five) years later, I am a state champion.”
There are other wrestlers in the East Valley who have had better careers, won multiple state titles, but for one season Andrew was tough to beat.
Just ask the four guys who call themselves state champions who fell in the wake of Andrew’s decision to take on the best.