With a one-of-a-kind wrestling season that started in April, ran until mid-June, featured no large tournaments and no official IHSA postseason, Ben Aranda knew it was going to be a challenge.
But the DeKalb senior won all 14 of his matches at 113 pounds this season and continued to make a name for himself nationally, competing in national tournaments and earning a No. 10 ranking by FloWrestling. Because of his accomplishments Aranda was named the Daily Chronicle 2021 Wrestler of the Year.
“This year was definitely a different year,” Aranda said. “It was a lot of adjustments and trying to make everything as normal as possible for me and my team.”
Aranda’s schedule saw him compete late last month in a national duals tournament in Oklahoma, helping Illinois win the Greco Roman division and take fourth in freestyle.
“You’re seeing the best kids in the country week after week,” Aranda said. “I just saw a No. 1 kid last week. So it means a lot to compete through USA wrestling, ’cause you’re seeing the best kids in the country. You just get the matches you can see.”
Heading to Cleveland State in the fall to continue his wrestling career, Aranda has spent time in the national rankings this year.
Aranda said it was a culmination of a lot of hard work to end up a top 10 wrestler nationally.
“It was nice to be ranked that high, to a hit a point where it feels like a belong in the top tier of the country,” Aranda said. “I wouldn’t say it was a relief, but it was a satisfying feeling after staying late after practice or doing what I needed to be doing.”
DeKalb coach Sam Hiatt said Aranda started the 2019-20 campaign kind of rough. It was a tough schedule and he suffered some tough losses.
But then, Hiatt said, something clicked and Aranda started staying after practice, doing more work. That made him a leader of the team as the hard work started leading to better results.
“Everybody saw the hard work he put in and the results he started getting,” Hiatt said. “All of a sudden there’s a bunch of people at the practice doing the same thing. He was always good but he had a turning point to do that extra stuff. He mentally got tougher and started working his [butt] off, and all of a sudden a really good wrestler became one of the best in the state and in the country.”
While there was no IHSA state championship, the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association held a state tournament in which Aranda took second. The Barbs took second as a team with five wrestlers who placed.
Hiatt said he expects Aranda’s work to continue, not only during the summer season in which there’s a national tournament later this month, but when he reports to Cleveland State to start his college career.
“It’s good when the person who works extra starts getting the results so everyone can see it,” Hiatt said. “He just got more confidence in himself. He started wrestling how he’s capable, and I still think the sky is the limit. I’m excited to see what he can do at college.”