0217 benton girls wrestling

Benton senior Lexi Petersen wrestles ahead of sectionals on Wednesday in St. Joseph, Missouri.

It’s been a long road for Benton High School senior Lexi Petersen to get to her final season. After finishing fourth her sophomore year and not placing her junior year, Petersen said she was overcome with nerves when she stepped on the mat for the district championship match two weeks ago. But she said she was confident in her approach.

“I went out there, and I was like, ‘Alright, I’m going to wrestle like I’m down two the entire match,’” Petersen said, “and that’s what I did, and I came out on top.”

Peterson claimed the District 8 title at 112 with a 7-0 decision win in the championship match. She is only the second wrestler to win a district title in the Benton girls wrestling program’s short history. The last came in 2019 by Brooke-Lynn Rush, who went on to win a state championship that season.

Petersen said with everything going on this year, it’s been satisfying to have success on the mat.

“This year, placing and being top in the bracket was really great for me,” she said. “It just felt really good because you never know what’s going to come, and with how COVID’s been with our season, it’s been kind of up in the air, it was great that I actually got to compete in it.”

Now, Petersen turns her focus on sectionals this weekend. But she won’t be Benton’s only representative at the tournament. Sophomore Tatum Levendahl claimed third place in the district tournament to secure a spot in sectionals.

Levendahl said she had a lot of confidence going into her semifinal match, but she was pinned and pushed to the consolation bracket.

“Whenever I didn’t win and I got pinned, I was fired up, I was angry about it,” Levendahl said. “I wanted to go out for my next match and put myself in better standing.”

She bounced back to get a pin of her own and claim third place at 137 and move on to sectionals.

“I think it’s really special to be able to take home third as a sophomore,” Levendahl said. “It’s especially going to help me get further out in the postseason. I’ve got a pretty decent spot for sectionals, and I think it can help me go further.”

As her attention turns to sectionals on Saturday, Petersen said she hopes to leave it all on the mat in what could be her last chance to compete.

“I’m kind of wrestling with the mindset right now that this is my match, this is my finals match,” Petersen said, “so I’m going to press play, and I’m going to go hard because without doing that, you’re not going to have the mindset that you need when you walk out onto the mat.”

And still early in her career, Levendahl said she hopes she can put herself in a good position to have success.

“I know you always say that you’re going to do your best, but it really comes down to a mindset of whether you really do put it all out on the mat,” Levendahl said. “I want to be able to leave my season, if that is this coming week, I want to leave it on a good note.”

But both acknowledge that what they’re helping to build at Benton is about more than just themselves. Petersen said her present success can help lay the groundwork for girls who come through in the future.

“I’m just going to fight as hard as I can these next couple weeks to get where I want to be,” she said, “but if it doesn’t happen, I just want girls to see that they can do whatever they want if they put their mind to it because any girl could go out for wrestling as long as they have a strong mentality.”

Petersen and Levendahl will be in action in sectionals this Saturday at Staley High School.

Jacob Lang can be reached at jacob.lang@newspressnow.com. Follow him on twitter: @NPNowLang.