Not your normal freshman

Not+your+normal+freshman

Story by Chris Reinoos, News Editor

Coming into the wrestling season, Nathaniel Behnke kept his individual goals modest.

“My first goal was I didn’t want to go under .500, and over the year I just wanted to have fun,” Behnke said.

Judging by his recent stretch of victories, he has been taking both goals seriously.

Behnke (12-5), a freshman from the small town of Bruce, Wis., recently won eight matches in a row after starting the season 4-4, including five pinfall victories during that stretch. He had his winning streak snapped Tuesday in a loss to UW-La Crosse’s Adam Sheley.

Behnke, who said he has been wrestling since he was in kindergarten, said he did not know what to expect coming to UW-Eau Claire and competing at the collegiate level. But he did have some familiar faces around him to make the transition easier.

Behnke’s twin brother Ryan, also a freshman wrestler, came to Eau Claire with him. Ryan Behnke is currently sidelined after having knee and shoulder surgery last season, but plans on returning next year and competing alongside his brother, pushing each other in what Ryan called a “friendly rivalry.”

Nathaniel Behnke’s longtime coach Jeremy Peery serves as an assistant to Eau Claire Head Coach Jonathan Ames. Peery said he has coached Nathaniel Behnke since Behnke was 14.

Peery said he noticed a difference in Nathaniel Behnke at an early age.

“He had more of a drive than a lot of kids to succeed,” Peery said. “When other kids would be doing one pushup, he would be doing two or three. When kids would run a half-mile, he would run three quarters of a mile.”

That work ethic has driven Behnke throughout his four years of high school and into his first collegiate season. He said he does not feel content with getting
victories by decision and is constantly trying for pinfalls. Ryan Behnke, who said Nathaniel is wrestling as well as he ever has, has noticed his brother being more aggressive on the mat and has a non-stop motor.

Nathaniel Behnke said this newfound aggressiveness is part of his wrestling strategy.

“I want to hammer these kids, just go out there and get the job done,” Nathaniel Behnke said. “I want to be the aggressor right away.”

Junior and team captain Matt Rieckhoff said he was impressed with Nathaniel Behnke during preseason workouts and weight training. Rieckhoff also said Nathaniel Behnke has attempted to improve some part of his wrestling every day, and has brought a high level of enthusiasm to the team and has turned into a leader by example.

“He’s also a kid that you can look to during practice and you know he’s going to be working hard.” Rieckhoff said. “That kind of drives others around him to step up their game and be working as hard as they can at all times.”

After getting acclimated to the higher intensity and physicality of college wrestling, Nathaniel Behnke said his goals have become a bit loftier. He hopes to be a national qualifier by the end of the year, which will require a great showing at the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship in
mid-February.

Ames said Nathaniel Behnke’s potential is almost limitless, considering the success he has had this year as what Ames described as a “pretty green” competitor.

“I think the sky’s the limit. He’s got the work ethic. He’s got the team behind him to really push him,” Ames said. “He can keep improving and surprise a lot of people in the conference and the country these next few years.”

Peery also said he believes Nathaniel Behnke could eventually become a national contender if he continues to improve.

Not bad for someone who just wanted to finish with more wins than losses.