By David Fong
Regional Sports Content Manager
CLEVELAND — As he entered the final match of a wrestling career that has spanned nearly two decades, those surrounding Ben Sergent were content with all he had already accomplished.
Sergent himself, however, was not.
“Before my match, everyone in my family was saying they were all pretty content — they were happy I had made it as far as I did,” the Troy Christian High School graduate, now a senior wrestler at the University of Findlay, said. “But I knew that I had already made it this far, I just needed a little more push. I knew I had it in me to wrestle my best.”
Sergent gave that little extra push — and it propelled him all the way to a national championship in the 125-pound weight class of the NCAA Division II national championships Saturday in Cleveland.
“It feels amazing,” Sergent said just moments after he had stepped off the podium Saturday. “It’s even better to be surrounded by my friends and family, because the tournament was here in Ohio. I honestly don’t even know what to think about it right now. I don’t think it’s all quite set in yet.”
Sergent entered the tournament ranked No. 7 nationally, but was never seriously challenged on his way to a national title.
In the championship match, Sergent defeated Augustana’s T.J. North 7-4. In the semifinals Saturday, Sergent knocked off Gannon’s Matthew Turek. Sergent started off his title run Friday with a 10-4 win over Minnesota State-Moorhead’s Blake Bosch, then beat Ouachita Baptist’s Garrett Evans 9-2 to reach the semifinals.
“It’s definitely one of the best weekends I’ve ever had,” Sergent said. “There may have been a few other times when I was close, but I felt pretty good this weekend and felt like a had pretty dominating performance in the championship match. I won 7-4 and almost had a couple more takedowns, but I had a pretty big lead and didn’t want to risk anything.”
For Sergent, it’s been a six-year journey to a national title since he graduated from Troy Christian, where he was a four-time state placer and a two-time state champion, winning titles in 2007 and 2008. He initially enrolled at Central Michigan University, but transferred to Findlay without wrestling a match for the Chippewas. After redshirting his first year with the Oilers, Sergent qualified for the NCAA Division II tournament as a sophomore, placed fourth at nationals as a sophomore and qualified for nationals last year, but failed to place after suffering an injury.
“It’s been brutal ” Sergent said. “I’m 24 years old — one of the new recruits, a guy I trained with all year, has a tattoo on his chest that says, ‘Est. 1995.’ I’m like, ‘Is that the year you were born?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I’m like, ‘Wow, I was born in 1989’ — it made me feel pretty old.”
While winning a pair of state titles at Troy Christian was definitely a career highlight for Sergent, he admits winning a national championship was even more satisfying.
“It feels awesome,” he said. “You are talking about all 50 states, plus Canada. We had a guy from Canada in my weight class. You are the No. 1 guy now.”
Sergent likely closes the book on his competitive wrestling career with a national title, although he said he’d like to stay involved with the sport, possibly helping to coach his younger brother Michael, a freshman at Troy Christian who captured fourth place at this year’s state tournament.
Fortunately for Sergent, he’s well-positioned to enter the next phase of his life. The computer science major recently was named Academic All-American for the fourth time in his career. He’s already had internships with a number of prestigious companies.
“For me, it’s always been about academics,” he said. “I’m a student-athlete first — there are definitely some guys here who are athlete-students. I did plan a little bit for after my wrestling career was over. I’m training with a company in Findlay and have been in contact with several companies around Ohio. I’m ready to enter the corporate world.”
Unlike the vast majority of his peers about to enter the workforce, Sergent’s resume will include the words “national champion.”
Contact David Fong at (937) 440-5228 or firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong