The most important thing to know about Johns Hopkins wrestler Paul Bewak is that he hates to lose. Even narrow victories irk the senior.
"I'm never happy," said Bewak, who has compiled a 22-4 record (two losses by injury forfeit) this season while wrestling at 125 pounds. "I hate the fact that I've lost. … And I hate the fact that there are matches that I won where I should've destroyed the kid and never closed. I crave perfection in my wrestling, and I hate it when it's not there."
Fortunately for him, Bewak has enjoyed far more wins than losses in his career with the Blue Jays. In fact, Bewak has already surpassed the school record for career victories (he's 122-22), and he is the program's first two-time All-American after finishing seventh in the NCAA tournament in 2012 and 2014.
He is ranked No. 5 in Division III at 125 pounds by InterMat Wrestling and enters Saturday's Centennial Conference championships at McDaniel with the third-most wins in league history.
Fellow senior Christian Salera, who wrestles at 157 pounds, called Bewak the best wrestler Johns Hopkins has produced.
"For the incoming freshman, he's definitely a role model on and off the mat with his work ethic," Salera said. "When the team hits a rough slope, there's always 'guaranteed-win' Paul, which helps lift the team out. There have been some rough spots over the past four years, but Paul has always come through when we needed him to. It helps the team morale."
Bewak's journey to Johns Hopkins has been anything but easy. During his first two years at Hempfield Area High School in Greensburg, Pa., Bewak admitted that he never took academics seriously.
"It was a real struggle," he said. "In my head, I was like, 'I'm just going to wrestle, and that's all I'm going to do.' I practiced twice a day, went home, and did no homework. Looking back, it was really stupid of me."
That changed in the first semester of his junior year of high school, when Bewak took a course in physics. Fascinated by the interaction between objects and the action-reaction relationship, he began focusing on his grades and turned himself from a D student to an A student.
That transformation — and three top-eight finishes in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association championships — caught the attention of Johns Hopkins coach Keith Norris. He recruited against Cornell and Cleveland State for Bewak, and the clincher came in late 2011, when Bewak visited the Hopkins campus and was offered an academic scholarship.
In 2012, Bewak won the Centennial Conference title at 125 pounds and became the program's second freshman to ever qualify for the NCAA tournament. A year later, he opened the season as the school's first wrestler ranked No. 1 in the country, won his second consecutive league championship at 125 and set a school record for single-season wins with 34.
Bewak was bothered by a torn hip labrum last season, which prevented him from wrestling for a third straight Centennial crown. But he passed Eric Fishel's school record of 98 career and again reached the NCAA tournament.
In May, Bewak underwent hip surgery and was prohibited from working out for 12 weeks. During that time, Bewak, who is already beginning to show signs of an arthritic hip, considered ending his wrestling career.
"I was really contemplating whether or not I wanted to do it," he said. "There would be nights where in my head, I would fight with myself and say, 'You're going to do this.' I was weighing all of these options. I couldn't sleep at night. I started talking to my high school coach [Vince DeAugustine], who is the one I've always gone to. I talked it out with him and realized that all I want to do is win.
"I've been wrestling since the second grade with dreams of being the best. So all I want to do is win nationals. From that point on, there's never been a doubt in my mind that this is what I want to do. I want to practice every day, I want to get better, and I want to win nationals this year."
Bewak rededicated himself to getting back into shape and finished first at the New Standard Corp Invite and the Waynesburg Invitational. Norris said he has noticed a change in Bewak's approach to his final year of eligibility.
"He saw [former Blue Jay] Paul Marcello make it to the final [last winter] and how he came back that year and worked his butt off," Norris said. "I think it's coming down to, 'This is my last year, and I've put in the work. I'm doing the right things.'
"I've told him, 'It's not what you're doing during the two hours of practice, it's what you're doing in the 22 hours outside of practice that makes you a champion.' Our motto is, 'You've got to want to be great. It's not going to come to you.' So I think it's a little of both. It is his senior year, and it's great to see how he's growing as a wrestler and as a person."
Academically, Bewak has earned a 3.2 cumulative GPA and is on pace to graduate in May with a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in mathematics. Perhaps the only thing missing is that NCAA championship that he thinks about before drifting off to sleep.
"I want to be the best this school has ever seen," Bewak said. "For personal reasons, I want to be the national champ, but I want to show [current and future teammates] that you can do this. It's not the impossible. Don't ever think that just because you come here, you can't ever do this. So I want to be a leader for everyone else that ever follows me that this is possible."