By Larry Moko
One of the most impressive records by a Canadian high school student in wrestling this season belongs to Serena Di Benedetto of the Bishop Ryan Celtics.
She’s 41-0 in match results so far.
An OFSAA gold-medal winner last month in Ottawa, Di Benedetto’s undefeated streak continued last weekend in Fredericton, N.B., with seven straight wins at the national age-group level. Competing in the women’s 46-kilogram class, the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association star won the Canadian U17-division championship with a victory in the final over Madison MacKenzie of Saskatchewan.
It was the second-consecutive Cadet title for Di Benedetto, who won it at 43kg in 2018.
The following day saw more mat action for Di Benedetto. She took part in – and won -- the Cadet Team Trials (involving U17 plus first-year U19). In the final, she defeated the current U19 46kg champion, Vivica Addo from Alberta. The score was 8-4.
That victory earned Di Benedetto the right to represent Canada at the 2019 Cadet Pan-American championships (June 28-30 in Morelia, Mexico) and the World Cadet championships (July 29-Aug. 4 in Sofia, Bulgaria).
“The second day I was pretty tired from the first day,” Di Benedetto said. “But I knew it was super important. My first match was pretty hard, but I pulled through. I kept winning and got on Team Canada.
“I’m pretty excited … I’ve never been to Mexico before.”
Prior to arriving at Fredericton for the two events, Di Benedetto had come out on top from all her matches this season either by pins or 10-point technical superiority. And she had never previously gone the full two rounds.
Serena’s father John, who is an assistant to head wrestling coach Sheldon Francis at Bishop Ryan, watched the live streaming of the Fredericton matches. “It was a good accomplishment for her,” he said. “She’s very tough. Serena has shown a big improvement from last year. She’s matured quite a bit. Personally, I think she’s showing a skill level one or two years above her peers right now. She has a lot of potential for her age.”
Dad says Serena has become stronger and quicker over the past 12 months. And training with older partners at McMaster University has helped, too.
“She has really developed a lot more technical skills in executing her attacks.”
The Cadet Pan-American championships last year were in Guatemala City, Guatemala and Di Benedetto came home with a bronze medal from that competition. Said John Di Benedetto: “Serena should have been in the final. She was leading her Brazilian opponent 8-0 in the semifinal. She needed two more points to win. But she got caught on her back and was pinned. I think she’s got a good opportunity to be in the final this year.”
Action continues for Di Benedetto this week and next with international Cadet tournaments in Pennsylvania and New York.
A trip to the worlds in Bulgaria would be special, too, for Serena’s mother, Jenn Hopkins, who is a teacher at Cathedral High School. Hopkins, who hopes to make the trip to watch Serena, was formerly a member of Canada’s team that competed at the 1987 World Rhythmic Gymnastic Championships in Varna, Bulgaria.
Bulgaria was the site of the first world championship appearance for mom and it would be the debut world championship competition for Serena.
“I plan on being there,” Hopkins said. “It’s such a cool and unique opportunity. She’s so engulfed in it. I’m proud of her.”
Serena is Bishop Ryan’s first female wrestler to win two national championships.