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It came as a surprise to him.
He just tries to be a well-rounded athlete who works hard during each season as it comes.
But, Hunter Bennett has accomplished something that likely has never been done at Elkhorn Valley: he qualified for state in three sports during his freshman year.
“I just try to practice hard and focus on one sport at a time,” he said. “I don’t think ahead. I just focus on today, one race at a time, one match at a time.”
Bennett, 15, qualified for state in cross country, wrestling and track in his first year of high school sports.
“We don’t know of any boy who has ever done that at Elkhorn Valley,” EV track coach Jeff Meyer said. “I think it’s safe to say this is the first time.”
When asked what his personal records were for each sport, Bennett wasn’t sure.
Coach Meyer said that is precisely what makes the young athlete such a pleasure to coach.
“Your inability to pull out your personal bests makes a coach smile ear to ear,” Meyer said to Bennett. “You think, ‘Who cares?’ You just go out and do your best. And rock it.”
After talking to each of Bennett's coaches, some impressive stats were discovered.
In cross country, the freshman runner posted his fastest time of the season at the Niobrara Valley Conference meet. Bennett crossed the finish line in second place with a time of 16:42 to earn All-Conference honors. He earned third place in the D2 District cross country meet (17:30.57) to punch his ticket to state. At state, Bennett ran an 18:30.1 to place 42nd out of 148 runners. He was the 5th freshman to cross the finish line in the Class D race.
On the mat, Bennett wrestled at 106 pounds and accumulated a 36-16 record, including 67 takedowns, 16 escapes, 9 reversals, 23 near falls, 1 tech fall and 12 pins. He earned 181.5 points for the Falcon team during his freshman season. The EV team won the D2 District wrestling title, and Bennett qualified for state as the district runner up to the eventual state champion at 106 pounds. In his first state appearance, he went 1-2 in his matches. The Falcons earned state runner up in the overall team standings. Bennett also earned first place in the USA State Wrestling meet at 104 pounds. He was named to the second team for NVC All-Conference.
To complete the state trifecta, he was a double-qualifier in track and field, competing in Class D pole vault and the 3200 meter run. At districts, Bennett earned 2nd in pole vault when he cleared 10-6, his best vault of the season, and placed 4th in the 3200. His district time of 11:07.24 was fast enough to seal a wildcard spot at state. At the track state meet, Bennett matched his personal best, vaulting 10-6 to finish in 21st overall. He was one of five freshman to qualify for boys pole vault in Class D. Bennett broke into the top 15 in the 3200 at state, placing 12th with a time of 11:01, and was the first freshman to cross the finish line. Only four freshman qualified for the state race in Class D.
Coach Meyer said Bennett “grew up across the street” from him. The son of Lucas and Meredith Bennett and the oldest of five children, he said Bennett was always an active child.
“You can pick out those elementary kids when they’re younger, based on how active they are, which ones are going to be nice athletes,” the coach said. “I kinda had a feeling about Hunter, not a ‘He’s going to qualify for state in three sports feeling,’ but a feeling. It’s been an exciting year for him.”
Meyer said Bennett is “very coachable” and “trains hard.”
“He’s focused,” he said. “He doesn’t buy into what other kids are doing. He knows what he needs to do to be successful. He’s not on the X-box five hours a day. He’s very competitive.”
The coach said he also appreciates that Bennett “doesn’t specialize in one sport” and “devotes his season to that sport.”
His other coaches agreed.
Wrestling coach Joey Tegeler said his dedication is impressive.
“He’s a good kid and a hard worker,” Tegeler said. “He’s a rare gem. You don’t get that from a lot of kids these days. He puts in extra work during the summer and goes to open gyms. He’s one of them that’s always there.”
Cross country coach Rebecca Munson said Bennett’s drive and work ethic are two of the biggest reasons for his success.
“He pushes himself to the limit everyday in practice and he works hard in the summer,” Munson said. “He trains on his own. He races on his own. He came into the season in peak condition, ready to compete.”
Bennett said he attended camps for cross country, wrestling and pole vault last summer, and runs and lifts weights to stay in shape.
“I don’t drink pop a lot, try to stay in shape and eat right,” he said.
Bennett said sometimes when they do sprint training in practice he goes out and “jogs a little more at home.” He typically logs a total of 2-3 miles a day during track season and 5-7 miles a day during cross country.
Bennett credits his coaches for much of his success.
“My coaches set goals for me,” he said.
A goal-oriented athlete, Bennett has surpassed all of their expectations for his freshman season, and believe there are more great things to come.
“He’s accomplished what a lot of kids would like to do, just get to state,” Coach Meyer said. “Now that he’s qualified, he’s going to go down to state and do some damage.”