Destiny Benjamin didn’t start wrestling until her freshman year, but in four years at Dulaney High, she did what no other Dulaney female wrestler had ever done.
The 2019 Towson Times Female Athlete of the Year capped her senior year by winning the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association wrestling tournament for females for the second year in a row.
Wrestling at 126 pounds at the state tournament, she had a technical fall and two pins, including one in the final bout, just 39 seconds into the match.
The co-captain, with Philip Bramucci, was 22-16 overall during the season with 11 pins.
She was the first female captain in Dulaney wrestling history and the first to finish with a winning record.
By finishing top six in the Baltimore County tournament, she was the first female ever to qualify for the Class 3A-4A North Region tournament, featuring males and females.
Her eight state championships during her career, that includes postseason titles in Freestyle and Greco Roman tournaments, also helped get her name to be placed on the coveted Dulaney Wall of Fame.
Wrestling may not have been her main sport before arriving at Dulaney, but she had no fear of contact.
“My main inspiration to try wrestling was that I was always into combat sports and liked the idea of it because I watched the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and everything, and wrestling is basically the only sport in high school where you can hurt people legally, so I was like ‘I might as well give it a shot’ and I tried out, ended up liking it and then I stuck with it,” Benjamin said.
The early years on the mat included some tough lessons.
“She definitely took her losses and got whipped as a freshman and sophomore and even parts of her junior year and she just didn’t like that feeling,” Dulaney coach Scott Asher said. “She was always asking the coaching staff, ‘What can I do?’ even when she wins, she wants to improve.”
She recalled her first victory was an exhibition against Catonsville during her freshman year on JV.
“I didn’t start on varsity my freshman year because they had a 126-pounder that was a lot better then me, but I wrestled an exhibition at the end of the dual meet and I ended up pinning the kid,” she recalled.
Losing to boys bothered her in the first couple seasons.
“If I lose a match, obviously I’m going to be upset about it because you lost and you want to get better, but the way that I saw it, was that it was like a learning experience and so just trust the process,” she said.
“But, it would make me upset when I lost to the guys and then they would be like, ‘Oh, you are really good for a girl and everything like that’ and whenever they would say that it would make me really mad because I don’t care about being good for a girl, I want to be good period. It shouldn’t matter.”
Benjamin, who defended her Maryland State Wrestling Association State championship this year, was also the 2019 recipient of the Tricia Saunders Excellence Award, which is a national award that recognizes excellence in wrestling, scholastic achievement, citizenship and community service.
One recipient from each state is honored and a national winner is selected from regional winners.
“It was a big honor when I won that award,” Benjamin said.
It was also an honor to be selected wrestling team captain.
“That was decided on by the coaching staff,” Asher said. “It really wasn’t a discussion, it was like, other than Destiny, who is going to be captain. We knew that going in. She’s a role model for everybody on the team, academics and year-round wrestling, she helps with our pre-season clinic that we have through Cockeysville Rec Council.”
Wrestling is nearly a year-round sport for Benjamin, who started practicing for postseason spring and summer tournaments about two weeks after the high school season ended.
“Basically, I was only away from any mat time for about two weeks,” Benjamin said.
Those postseason state and national tournaments gave her much-appreciated experience.
“I feel like my biggest improvement over the years was my confidence and my technique because I was looking at some matches my freshman year where I would be going up against guys I could have beat and then it was just like I was scared,” she said.
“My senior year I just developed this confidence over the summer that I’m going to have a good season and that nobody is going to stop me from having a good season and then I ended up killing it.”
Her leadership was also an influence on Dulaney’s other female wrestlers — Nicole Wanga and Sarah Sunday.
Wanga was second in the state championship meet and Sunday was fourth.
“She obviously can work with anybody on the team as far as improving their skill set, she’s one of the most technically-sound wrestlers on the team,” Asher said.
She will wrestle on the women’s team at Ferrum College next season and plans to study the science aspect of criminal justice.
“I’m very excited about my college career on the mat because it’s kind of a fresh start, because obviously people are going to care about what your accolades were in high school, but they won’t care as much as they did in high school, so it’s kind of a fresh start to actually show other coaches what you are made of,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin showed what she was made of against Perry Hall during her senior year in what was her proudest victory.
The Lions were going to win the dual meet because of several Perry Hall forfeits, but she was involved in one of the five matches that were contested on the mat and her coach wanted to win those matches.
She expected to wrestle a JV boy, but got a surprise.
“I came out and there was this guy with like huge swollen arms and I was like, ‘This could be a lot tougher then I thought,’ ” she said.
It was tough and she trailed by five points going into the third period.
She got a reversal and two back points, but still trailed by one.
Her coach pleaded for her to let her opponent escape and try to get a takedown.
She got the takedown with 12 seconds left and just had to ride him out to force overtime.
“I held onto his leg for dear life and took it into overtime,” she said. “That’s when my coach yelled at me, ‘Finish it, it’s in overtime now,’ and so in the first 30 seconds I got the takedown and then I won the match.”
She insists it was her teammates and coaches that gave her the energy to rebound.
“It was pretty motivating because my coaches were behind me and my team was behind me and if I didn’t have their energy being influenced on me in that match, I wouldn’t have won that match,” she said.
What also motivated her was wrestling boys.
“I feel like wrestling the guys is more fun for me, mainly because it’s in the regular season and I have my team with me and everything like that and especially since I was the captain of the team this year, it was just like a lot of good vibes and good energy when I went out on the mat,” Benjamin said. “If I would doubt myself in the match, I would look over at my team and look at who I was leading and then I would just get the strength to win the match.”