CHAMPAIGN – His competition for next year's Dike Eddleman Athlete of the Year Award can relax. Ernest Benion has run out of eligibility.
His former wrestling teammates best keep on their toes, though. Benion hasn't run out of energy.
"I hope to get on the mat with them, scrimmage with them," the UI's all-time wins leader said. "It will be good to keep in touch with the guys."
Probably pin a few, too.
The three-time All-America is attending graduate school at the University of Illinois and plans to keep in touch with Mark Johnson's program, which he helped turn around.
His efforts were rewarded Monday when he edged six men's finalists for the Eddleman Award. All-Big Ten basketball player Ashley Berggren was the women's winner.
"It's been a goal of mine and a dream of mine since I came to school," Benion said. "I'm speechless, and usually I say too much."
Berggren was 1 of 4 finalists, including swimmer Nicola Homenock, sprinter Benita Kelley and volleyball player Kelly Scherr.
The junior helped Illinois win its first Big Ten Conference championship and advance to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.
She led the Illini in scoring (17.8 ppg) and ranked in the top 10 in the conference in field goal percentage, free throw percentage and assists.
The school is pushing Berggren for All-America honors next season.
"To me, this is just the beginning," said Berggren, who will stay in C-U this summer to train for her senior season. "I can't wait until next season starts."
Berggren is the first women's basketball player to win the award since Janelle Polk in 1986.
"I really never established any goals when I came here," Berggren said. "Not until my freshman year did I realize what it took to compete. It's an honor."
The 23-year-old Benion said he'll limit his wrestling to friendly bouts in Huff Hall.
"The time has been great, but I think it's time to move on to other things," he said. "I've been blessed, but there are bigger and better things ahead of me in my life. I think I can be an example for others."
Benion finished third at 158 pounds at the NCAA Championships after finishing second in 1996 and first in 1995. He finished with a school-record 121 wins.
Other men's finalist: wrestler Lindsey Durlacher, basketball player Kiwane Garris, sprinter Dorian Green, football player Robert Holcombe, cross-country runner Barry Pearman and tennis player Gavin Sontag.
Benion is the first wrestler to win the award since Jon Lewellyn in 1991.
The winners will be honored at the 1997 Varsity "I" Banquet Oct. 3.