When the 2017-18 high school wrestling season rolled around, one name from the area was notably absent.
Benji Peak had won the WIAA Division 1 state title at 126 pounds in February 2017 as a junior for Elkhorn Area High School.
There would be no title defense in 2018, however. Peak had bigger goals in mind.
“Once you win state, there’s not really—in high school at least—much else to do,” he said in a recent phone interview. “And I was like, I’m not going to go wrestle college folkstyle, so I’m leaving now.”
Peak moved to Marquette, Michigan, finished his high school credits online, enrolled at Northern Michigan and began Greco-Roman wrestling training there at the United States Olympic Education Center.
Three years later, Peak said he has absolutely has no regrets. And his recent accomplishments are solid proof that he has not looked back.
Peak won the 2020 Senior Nationals in Iowa last month. He was named the event’s Most Outstanding Wrestler after outscoring his competition 46-0 over five matches in the 67-kilogram bracket.
“It basically went perfect,” Peak said. “A lot of times it doesn’t go like that, but this was pretty perfect.
“It was the senior nationals, so it’s the top guys that compete for an Olympic spot, the guys that represent the country at the World Championships every year. So to win it, not many guys do it. It was pretty spectacular for me.”
The biggest difference between Greco-Roman wrestling and folkstyle or freestyle is that competitors cannot shoot for an opponents’ legs in an effort to go for a takedown.
Peak said he originally enjoyed that style of wrestling because he was able to travel overseas to compete. He was a highly regarded Greco-Roman wrestle from a young age and jumped at the opportunity to train and wrestle the style in college.
Elkhorn wrestling coach Ken Reynolds keeps close tabs on his former wrestler.
Reynolds said it has long been evident that Peak is a very driven individual.
“You’ve got to remember, he’s only a junior (age group) wrestler, and he just won the senior national tournament,” Reynolds said. “That’s kind of like being in a youth club and you bump up. What he accomplished is unbelievable. It’s dominant.
“He knows he’s on a slow build and that it doesn’t happen overnight. But he’s just been doing it the right way, and I’m so proud of him and so happy for him.”
That slow build was in reference to Peak’s path toward competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
Peak said making the Olympics is the ultimate goal, though he has not put a timetable on achieving that dream. The recent title could potentially speed up his process a little.
“It makes me think a lot more. I feel like it makes a lot of other people and competitors think about me a little more,” Peak said. “The Olympics is definitely the end goal, whenever that happens. I am a little young ... but we’ll see what happens.”
Next up for Peak is the Junior Nationals tournament, which is slated for Nov. 12-15 in Omaha, Nebraska.
With the 2020 Olympics pushed back to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Peak now hopes he will be part of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials that are set for April 2021.
Reynolds cannot wait to see how far Peak can take his Greco-Roman talent.
“When Benji left high school, it wasn’t anything like I was mad at him. A lot of people think that, but the worst part about it was just that I wasn’t able to coach a kid of that talent for another year,” Reynolds said. “There were no hard feelings either way.
“Wisconsin turns out a lot of quality Greco guys. Greco is kind of Wisconsin’s thing. If you talk to anybody in Wisconsin about wrestling and mention Benji Peak, they’ll tell you they love him. He has so much respect for everybody and is so well-known. It’s just awesome.”