Although senior Rodney Beneker of the Hilliard Darby High School wrestling team went 0-2 in the Division I state tournament March 7-9 at Ohio State, his effort was courageous, according to coach Brendan Moody.
"Rodney did what he always does. He wrestled as hard as he possibly could," Moody said. "He came up a little short in his two matches, but it was far from a failure. It was a very courageous competition. It was disappointing that he was not at full health, but that is life. ...
"He has multiple injuries that took away a lot of the technique that makes him successful, but he never complained. He battled for every point. It was inspiring to see how he reacted to adversity."
Competing at heavyweight, Beneker lost to Uniontown Lake's Michael Mather 6-2 in the first round and fell to Claymont Northmont's Seth Frantz 5-1 in his second match to finish the season 37-10.
Beneker battled through the Panthers' final OCC-Cardinal Division dual and the entire postseason with a torn meniscus in his left knee that he suffered Feb. 9 during the All-North Tournament at Dublin Jerome. He also injured his left shoulder during the district tournament March 1 and 2 at Darby.
"Rodney has a torn meniscus in his lead knee and will undergo surgery on (Wednesday), March 20," Moody said. "He was our leader on the mat. His effort in the room and in competition was a beam of light that our whole team followed. It is so important to have kids on your team that do the right thing all the time and have infectious personalities and Rodney was that for us. I cannot say enough good things about his career and his senior season. He will be a fantastic example for this program for many years."
Beneker was one of seven Panthers who qualified for district but was the lone state qualifier. He went 3-2 at district and placed fourth.
The other district qualifiers were seniors Ben Brown (132 pounds, 32-13), Muneeb Ajlouni (145, 27-17) and Isaac Richards (126, 24-9) and sophomores Blayne Barnes (220, 26-13), Kole Kendall (182, 13-17) and Bradley Weaver (195, 25-9). Weaver did not compete at district because of injury.
"Bradley broke his elbow in (his sectional semifinal Feb. 23), but continued to wrestle and won in his go-to-district match," Moody said. "He attempted to compete in the third-place match, but we had to take him out for that match.
"An X-ray (Feb. 25) showed that he broke his elbow and he had surgery (Feb. 28). It was heartbreaking news, but Bradley is in good spirits about his potential to lead and have a great season next year."
Senior Justen Shaw (170, 28-16) was a district alternate after placing fifth in a 10-team sectional at Newark. Senior Luke Fleenor (160, 11-14) and sophomore Sam Pence (152, 24-15) both placed sixth.
The Panthers went 7-0 in the OCC-Cardinal to win the title ahead of runner-up Delaware (6-1).
"As a coaching staff, we expected that this would be a building season, where we would teach as much as we could and have as much fun as possible, which we did," Moody said. "But these kids were not happy with just having a building season. They wanted to compete for championships. The fact that we won two tournaments and an OCC championship is remarkable.
"I do not think many people saw that coming, including myself. This was one of the most fun seasons that I have had as a coach."
Darby is losing eight seniors, including Cade Ryan (138, 21-16) and Carter Holt (152/160), who was lost for the season with a knee injury.
"This senior group is best described as overachievers," Moody said. "A lot of these kids did not have a ton of varsity experience coming in, but they stepped up every week. They took challenges head-on. They are incredibly special and I already miss them."
Other expected returnees include sophomores Isaiah Beneker (170, 22-14) and Daoud Saadeh (106, 8-18) and freshman Nathan Morris (120, 20-12). Beneker suffered a season-ending finger injury during the All-North Tournament.
"I am thrilled with what we have coming back," Moody said. "We have a very talented sophomore class and I expect them all to jump a level again next season. Plus, we have three freshmen that lettered this year (Morris, Cade Mills and Xander Ramirez) that I expect to lead their class. We might be light on seniors next year, but not experience."