Derby’s Ben Becker told himself he failed. He questioned whether he had it in him to win a state championship after coming agonizingly close the last two seasons.
So, Becker made a promise to himself to keep working every day until he could vanquish the feeling of past failures.
That moment came on Saturday night at Hartman Arena when the Derby senior had his arm raised to declare him the Class 6A champion at 152 pounds.
“I’ve been working my entire life to get here and to feel this,” Becker said. “And it feels even better than I imagined.”
Becker had to overcome Northwest sophomore Saul Ortiz and a physically bruising match in the finals.
Becker is best when opponents come at him because of his ability to turn their momentum against them. But Ortiz executed his game plan perfectly, slowing the match to a crawl.
The three periods went by without much action, the most tense moment came when Becker was penalized for a false start and Ortiz took a 1-0 lead in the second period. But Becker tied it with an escape in the third to force overtime.
The difference came in the second overtime when Becker wrestled free from Ortiz’s grip to escape with 40 seconds remaining.
“I wasn’t going to let him win that match after that,” Becker said. “That was my match.”
Once the final buzzer sounded, Becker ripped off his headgear and turned to the Derby crowd.
“That’s a lot of emotion tangled all into one right there,” Derby coach Bill Ross said. “Wrestlers are tough kids and sometimes you see those tough kids have tears come out of their eyes. That’s how tough this sport is. That’s how much emotion goes into it.”
Before the match began, Becker conjured up the memory of wrestling in this same match and losing as a junior. He remembered how it hurt a week, a month, a year later.
“I never wanted to feel that way again,” Becker said. “That was the worst I have ever felt in my life. I kept remembering that because I wanted to make sure it never happened again.”
When Becker stepped on the mat this season, Ross saw a changed wrestler.
“He wasn’t going to be denied that state championship,” Ross said.
And after it was all over, Becker wanted to share the moment with everyone.
He sprinted over and leapt into the arms of his coaches. He gave anyone who wanted one a sweaty hug. He jumped over the barrier and climbed into the stands to embrace his family.
It was what he had spent his whole life working toward and now it had finally come.
“I still can’t believe it,” Becker said. “This is by far the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”