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Bennett family builds NKN program

The Bennett family celebrated Tristan’s Senior Night last Friday at the Neah-Kah-
Nie league tournament. Left to right: Travis, Chris, Tristan and Renee. – Citizen Photo by Max Kirkendall

To say wrestling is in the bloodline of the Bennett family is as true a statement as saying it rains too much in Rockaway.
Max Kirkendall
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Neah-Kah-Nie High School senior Tristan and sophomore Travis are brothers led by their father and coach Chris Bennett on one of the state’s top wrestling teams. The two boys are in the midst of an outstanding 2018-19 season that has all the makings of a pair of state titles. But their success this season is just a culmination of all the blood, sweat and tears that has been shed in the NKN wrestling room from a very young age.
“After I graduated here I’d come up to wrestle and help as a volunteer coach, so I’ve been here at some capacity since then and for the boys it’s just become second nature,” Chris said. “We’re really lucky to have John Longfellow, who started the mat club up here, which allowed us to get Tristan up here since he was just three years old. Both of them know this wrestling room better than anyone who has ever been through here.”
Through the mat club at NKN, the Bennett boys learned their skills from their dad and Longfellow. Once they outgrew the club, Chris had the boys venture down to Tillamook to join their club so that they could continue to develop their craft.
“The Tillamook mat club has been huge for us because they were able to go down there and get really great wrestling partners and coaches,” Chris said. “All those guys are great coaches and are really just as responsible for the boys’ success as John and I are.”
That success has resulted in a 2A/1A state title for Tristan and a fourth place finish for Travis last season. However, this year the tandem has looked even tougher, as Tristan remains a perfect 14-0 in a shortened season and Travis holds a strong 33-4 record so far.
“I feel like I’ve had a really successful year so far,” Travis said. “And as a team we’ve made a lot of improvements also with the small amount of guys that we have.”
For Tristan, he had a late start after suffering an injury in his final football game this past season. But the time off did not seem to have any effect on the reigning champ, who was recently named one of the state’s top senior wrestlers by OregonLive.
“Getting that acknowledgment is pretty cool,” Tristan said. “It’s definitely been a lot of hard work getting there. Going down to Tillamook for the mat club has helped a lot and with Rex (Metcalfe) and (Lonnie) Eggert coaching me. John up here has also really helped my development. Going back and forth with two teams, learning different techniques has really made me the wrestler that I am today.”
But the two of course would not be having the success without the dedication from their coach and father Chris, who couldn’t be more proud of them.
“They’ve been wrestling for so long and I’ve been lucky enough to coach them for so many years,” Chris said. “Where we are now, we have a great relationship and are able to communicate well and they do a great job. They have put in a lot of time to get to where they are now and it’s great to see them in a position now where that work is paying off.”
For the boys, they both feel that having their father as a coach can be both rewarding and challenging at the same time.
“It’s good and it’s hard at the same time,” Tristan said. “We are always going to have to work the hardest and we’re going to get yelled at no matter what but it’s good because it pushes us to be better.”
Despite his crack down style of coaching his sons in the wrestling room, Chris said he has been very impressed with how both the boys have developed their skills throughout the years.
“Tristan has basically picked up right where he left off last year,” Chris said. “He’s a pinner who just goes and puts guys away in a hurry. He’s so strong and athletic at that weight that he just hasn’t had anyone yet who is a challenge. The biggest thing was getting him back into shape but he’s at a point now where I feel like he can wrestle a full match.”
If you have watched Tristan wrestle, you know not to blink because his matches will rarely surpass the first round, and oftentimes only last a few seconds. For him, it has just become the norm.
“That’s just kind of how it’s been for me in my weight class,” Tristan said. “This year and last year there have been some competitive guys in the first round and you just kind of get used to throwing them around. Every year I usually have at least one that will get to the third round and it’s a really good test for me.”
Although Travis’ matches are not always as swift as Tristan’s, he has certainly made great strides from his freshmen year and Chris and the rest of the state have taken notice.
“I’ve been really happy with the way Travis has evolved since last season,” Chris said. “His goal now is to be a three time state champion and he’s putting in the work to make that happen. He’s the best leader on the team, keeping everyone in line, running harder than anyone else and doing everything in the wrestling room. That work ethic has really rubbed off on everyone else. For him to be as young as he is and be such a great leader is awesome for our program.”
During the district tournament this weekend and the state tournament the following weekend, both Travis and Tristan will be the favorites in their respective weight classes. Tristan is in prime position for a state title repeat, but Travis will have to face a tough district foe from Siletz, who put up a strong fight against him last week.
“I’ll probably face the kid from Siletz in both the district and state finals and I know those matches against him are both going to be tough,” Travis said. “Being a state champion is my main goal, but I know I have to win districts first.”
With sky high expectations for the coming weeks, not only for the boys as individuals but for the whole NKN team as well, Chris said it is exactly the winning culture and expectation that he wants to provide for the Pirate wrestling program.
“This is my wife and I’s school and we want to help build the program here,” Chris said. “The boys’ teammates have been really great and they are starting to understand that just having everyone in the wrestling room is making everyone better because you need those workout partners. It’s definitely a team effort and when one guy succeeds, we all do, so I’ve been really happy with the chemistry of this group. You grow ties with so many of these kids and it’s something that I don’t want to walk away from.”

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