MOREHEAD CITY — Jacob Bennett was one match away from going to the state tournament as a sophomore. And it might end up being the best thing to ever happen to his wrestling career.

The West Carteret 132 pounder has used the fire from that disappointment to fuel a 9-0 start this winter.

“It impacted me,” he said. “That loss might be worth more than a win.”

Havelock’s Nate Lucio ended Bennett’s season at 36-11 with a 6-5 decision in the 120-pound third-round consolation match at the 3A east regional tournament. His loss in that blood round bout may end up being a classic example of losing the battle but winning the war.

“I want it bad this year so I’ve been working hard and it’s paying off so far,” Bennett said. “I’ve been working so much harder. I know I need more dedication and motivation if want to make it to states.”

Pouring more salt in the would was how he lost to Lucio. He entered the match having beaten the Havelock wrestler three times earlier in the season, pinning him in 5:57 in the third round at West Carteret's annual Beach Brawl, earning an 11-8 decision in Havelock's Big Horn Duals and pinning him in 3:41 in the Coastal Conference Tournament championship match.

“It was pretty bad,” Bennett said. “I went in there overconfident and he topped me by one point and I’ve regretted it and worked hard to get over it.”

Bennett said the lesson to never underestimate an opponent has been taken to heart.

“I warm up now realizing any guy can beat me,” he said.

The junior spent the offseason going to camps and tried to work out everyday to get stronger.

“That was a problem I had last year,” he said. “I was kind of weak for my weight class. I was still winning, but it was because of technique. I could compete, but I outwrestled, outsmarted, out-conditioned guys. I feel stronger now. Strength helps so much.”

The extra power has made a difference.

He started the season by winning the 132-pound division in the Beach Brawl. He pinned East Carteret’s J.T. Lawrence in 1:01 in the semifinals and then pinned Washington’s Tristen Nixon in 2:41 in the final.

In a quad match at Topsail last week with the host Pirates, New Bern and Trask, Bennett scored an impressive 19-2 tech fall win over senior Rogan Heath (11-3). The Trask wrestler was coming off a second-place finish at the tough Bulldog Invitational where he lost in an 11-8 decision to Richlands' Jadavin Eirich (10-0) in the 132-pound final.

“I felt strong enough to compete with him and he's a pretty good wrestler so I'm hoping that means I can compete with the big guys,” Bennett said. “I didn't have too much trouble in that match and that's probably my best competition so far. It’s been a good season. As it is right now, I’m pretty excited.”

Bennett started wrestling in seventh grade and even though he said he wasn’t very good that first year, he’s gone 4-for-4 winning conference championships, taking the league title in his last two years in middle school and his first two years in high school.

He’s also been a part of back-to-back Coastal Conference title teams at West Carteret. The Patriots aim to make it three in a row this season.

“That is the plan,” Bennett said.

The Patriots put together one of the best seasons in school history last year, going 36-2 and making it to the east regional final in duals before losing 43-29 to Cape Fear. They later captured their first individual tournament regional title in 25 years.

Although he has plenty of time left in high school, Bennett is eying a college career.

“I’ve been thinking about it and looking into it,” he said. “It would be amazing.”

He shouldn’t have any problem qualifying academically. Bennett sports a 3.75 GPA.

“I try to maintain A’s and B’s,” he said. “I’m taking a lot of honors classes right now, and they’re kicking my butt a little bit. I’m trying to get A’s in there but I’m getting some B’s.”

A member of West’s Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC), he’s looking at military academies at the next level.

“I’m thinking of being an officer in the military,” said the wrestler whose father is in the U.S. Coast Guard. “But I would have to take wrestling scholarship offers into consideration. I would love to wrestle in college.”

Here are a few of Bennett’s favorite things, as well as his ideal groups with which to eat dinner and survive a zombie apocalypse and the five items he would take with him on a deserted island:

Favorite Movie: “Avengers: Endgame.”

Favorite TV Show: “Full House.”

Favorite Cartoon: “Tom and Jerry.”

Favorite Band/Artist: Luke Bryan.

Favorite Song: “Ransom” by Lil Tecca.

Favorite Book: The Maze Runner by John Dashner.

Favorite Team: Carolina Panthers.

Favorite Athlete: Christian McCaffrey.

Favorite Vacation: Hawaii.

Favorite Hobby: Fishing.

Favorite Subject: Chemistry.

Favorite Quote: “Do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.” – T. Harv. Eker.

Favorite Food: Cheeseburger.

Favorite Drink: Chocolate milk.

Favorite Restaurant: Chick-fil-A.

Favorite Season: Summer.

Favorite Sports Memory: Winning my first wrestling tournament.

Favorite Teacher: Ms. Deborah Butler.

Favorite Sport: Wrestling.

Favorite Pre-Game/Post-Game Ritual: Praying about my match.

Favorite Website/App: FloWrestling.

Favorite Follow on Twitter/Instagram: Whistle Sports.

Ideal Dinner Guest List: Mike Trout, Tom Brady, Donald Trump, Muhammad Ali and Conor McGregor.

Ideal Group To Survive A Zombie Apocalypse: Josh Henderson, Ray Garner, Bo Fearing, Braxton Plisko and coach Jake Anfinson.

Items For A Deserted Island: Knife, lighter, pots, flashlight and inflatable boat.

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