Mike Benefiel believes Montini wrestling can do better, as hard as that is to imagine.
The Broncos have set quite the standard around Illinois and nationwide. Montini has won eight of the last 10 IHSA team titles, a top five nationally-ranked program under Israel Martinez.
Benefiel, assistant coach the last six years, plans to build off that as Montini's new head coach.
"It will be a bit of a learning curve the next few years at the helm of a program, but I have a vision of doing better. No. 1 in the country, that's where I see the program eventually being at," Benefiel said. "It's a huge goal, super tough, but you always have to try to do better than before."
Don't bet against Benefiel.
The 32-year-old Lisle resident, also an assistant coach at North Central College and club coach at the Izzy Style Wrestling club, has quite the pedigree. He was a four-time state champion at Montini, finishing his prep career with a then-IHSA record 200 wins, and two-time national champion at Fargo.
The 2007 Montini graduate twice qualified for the NCAA Division I championships at Oklahoma State, and at Elmhurst College won the Division III 197-pound national championship in 2013.
As a coach he's been part of four team state championships.
“We’re confident that under his leadership, not only will our wrestlers’ skills continue to improve, but they’ll have a strong and consistent role model," Montini Principal Kevin Beirne said in a statement. "Further, we feel coach Benefiel is best positioned to continue the incredible success the wrestling program and the student athletes in it have been able to achieve for more than 20 years.”
Montini in March won its 16th state championship, wrapping up a 24-0 dual meet season. The Broncos did so without Martinez, who did not coach and was not on the floor in Bloomington. The Montini administration that day issued a no comment to a request for information about Martinez's absence, and have not responded to requests for comment on the matter since then.
Benefiel was grateful at the opportunity to take over the program.
"I feel it's a great opportunity to help grow my coaching career, but I also feel gratitude that I'm able to step into a head coaching position at such a tremendous program that Izzy built up," Benefiel said. "First time being a head coach, stepping into a program at a top five school in the country, I'm grateful."
Benefiel admitted that he didn't envision coaching while he was still wrestling in high school and college.
After his wrestling career ended he pursued becoming a Mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter while living in Albuquerque, and had one fight that he won. He worked with MMA fighters, and opened up his own club for two years.
But then he came home to Illinois, reconnected with Martinez and started coaching at Montini and in club.
"I fell in love with the sport of wrestling in a different way," Benefiel said. "Nothing against MMA, it's a great sport and I love it, but wrestling is where it's at and where I want to be."
His interactions with his wrestlers have been limited to group chats, FaceTimes and Zoom meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic. USA Wrestling pretty much canceled every event for this summer. The national championships at Fargo scheduled for July 17-24 was canceled in late May.
Benefiel is hopeful to be back at it when high school season starts.
"It's been tough on the kids but they're staying as positive as they can, doing stuff on their own," Benefiel said. "The guys are excited about the next year, a little bit scared with coronavirus going on and about the slightest possibility of the season not happening. But they are optimistic and working hard."