DEL NORTE— Del Norte High School senior Natalie Benavides received interest from schools in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado, ultimately signing her letter of intent to wrestle for Colorado Mesa University on Tuesday, April 2.
Surrounded by family, teammates and supporters in the Del Norte High School Fieldhouse, Benavides committed to the school in Grand Junction so she could be closer to home. But she also met with coaches and wrestlers on campus and came away impressed by the program.
Colorado Mesa University is part of the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA). By signing with CMU, Benavides demonstrated her commitment to the school, beginning with the first day of classes on Aug. 19, 2019. Coaches from other WCWA schools can no longer recruit the Del Norte wrestler, and Benavides would be ineligible for WCWA competition next season if she chose to attend a different school and did not get released by the WCWA athletic director.
A multisport athlete, Benavides played volleyball and soccer with the girls, football with the guys and she wrestled with both. She started wrestling her older brothers when she was four years old and continued to gravitate to contact sports as she improved as a wrestler. On the football team, she played defensive back positions, excelling on special teams. On the soccer team, she continues to play defense. Despite very little experience with a soccer ball, she’s a natural defender with enough instincts and athletic ability to be successful on the field.
Working with wrestling coach Dan Roesch over time, Benavides honed her technical skills along with her strength. In 2018, she won the girls Colorado state champion in the 147-pound division. But for her senior year, she took on the bigger challenge of competing for a boys title instead.
“I started out with the boys, and I wanted to end with the boys,” Benavides explained. “Since I will be wrestling girls in college, I wanted to wrestle with the boys” for one last season.
The Del Norte senior battled the boys all year and during the regional tournament. She was disappointed with her performance, and her final high school season didn’t end with a trip to the podium at the state tournament. But the experience advanced her wrestling career and helped pave the way for collegiate competition.
Although she received interest from out-of-state coaches, Benavides said she enjoyed her tour of the CMU campus. She trained with the team, and the other athletes welcomed her. For school, Benavides said she expects it to be challenging to balance academics and sports. A work study program will help her cover costs while working within the institution instead of hustling off-campus to make money.
“Senioritis” might paralyze a few students on the brink of high school graduation, but Benavides continues to battle on the soccer field while completing her school work, officiating wrestling tournaments, assisting Roesch with his elementary school physical education classes and keeping a job at Jack’s Market. Wrestling with multiple challenges is nothing new for Benavides.