Faith, Education, Hoops Guide Benson to Success

Feb. 13, 2008

by Darren Shimp

Prototypical college students have one major, perhaps a minor on top of that. Maybe they belong to one or two clubs, which requires a few hours of commitment per month, possibly participating in intramural sports on the side.

Sydney Benson is not the average college student.

The junior has already completed the courses for her French degree, is pursuing an English degree on top of that and a math minor to boot. The junior carries a 3.87 grade point average and recently had her fifth 4.0 quarter since arriving in Cheney.

It is probably worth mentioning Benson also co-captains the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team and has led the team in scoring since Big Sky play began several weeks back.

She spends her Tuesday evenings guiding a weekly Bible study group on campus with her good friend Kelsie Williamson. Faith is a large component in her life, as she was raised under the roof of a preacher - her father.

One word often describes the reaction most people have when perusing Benson's credentials.

How?

"I compartmentalize pretty well," said Benson. "I set times aside for everything, even my social life."

Although she does admit her social life does take a back seat during basketball season, as she tries to take time to practice shooting before class for an hour as often as possible.

Deemed as a perfectionist by many around her, including herself, the Snohomish, Wash., native has an interesting perspective when it comes to her stellar grades and the ability to seamlessly use the word "compartmentalize" in a sentence.

"Well, it's not a 4.0," said a smiling Benson, who sets high levels of expectations for herself. Anyone who meets her finds she often has a smile on her face.

The enthusiasm she exudes has her adored by her teammates and coaching staff.

"That's just how she is," said teammate Kyla Evans.

Evans was also quick to note that there have been instances where the team will be hard at work in one of the team's endurance drills - and Benson will be heard singing the Eagle fight song to help ease the pain.

"She's a kid who can be goofy sometimes, and she's generally in a good mood," said head coach Wendy Schuller. "You know every day she's going to bring it and be encouraging to her teammates."

Co-captain Katy Baker, who has been on the team with Benson the last three seasons, echoes the sentiments of Benson's infectious personality.

"She's quiet at first, but once she gets to know you, she lets loose," said Baker. "She's the team cheer captain."

Due to injuries sidelining both Evans and Baker, Benson has had to increase her role as the leader, both on and off the floor.

"I'm just doing my job," said Benson of her enhanced responsibilities, as her playing time exceeds 29 minutes per game this season. Schuller said she was only able to withstand 17-18 minutes a game as a freshman due to her endurance, which has improved each season.

The toughest part about being thrust into the leadership role on such short notice, according to Schuller, was the fact that Benson has been recovering from a setback of her own.

Last spring a back injury sidelined Benson for six months, and she was unable to practice. She spent part of that time last summer taking classes at the University of Nice (in France, pronounced like niece), which she said was an amazing experience.

However, she was unable to establish the initial connection with the incoming Eagle freshmen and transfers during spring and summer practice, which is sometimes key to a team's chemistry.

"As the leader of the team, that kind of put her in a tough spot," said Schuller. "When she got back, the newcomers didn't know her as well as the rest of the teammates, and I think she really made a good effort back in September to get back in that role."

Her ailments finally started to feel better around the time school started in September, and it took her until the middle of the season to get back to where she was.

Benson, who was recently awarded Eastern's Scholar-Athlete of the Month Award for January, sets an example on the floor with her hard work and motivating skills, as well as off the floor with her multi-tasking abilities.

Along with the previously mentioned academic subjects which Benson says are the "subjects I really enjoy," she also has dabbled in modern languages, literature and philosophy in her time at Eastern. She has been on the Dean's List seven times and has been a representative on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee for two years.

Described as the consummate teammate and a genuine person, Benson truly cares about everyone she comes across. She possibly sees further education in her sights down the road.

"Graduate school is one of my options right now," said Benson.

Nevertheless, today she is focused "on getting better for next season," as her Eagle squad looks up to her to set a prime example for hard work and resilience.

With her extremely full schedule and being able to maintain such a high standard for her grades and accomplishments, Benson is putting to rest a stereotype which Schuller is quite familiar with.

"I knew a lot of PKs (preacher's kids) and they were the wildest kids around," said Schuller, who is a graduate of Fresno Pacific University, a Christian school in California. "When I recruited Sydney, people warned me, `Watch out, we have a preacher's kid here,' and never, ever has that been a concern.

"She's such a solid individual and she knows who she is. She is a joy to have around and to coach."

Benson refers to her younger sister, Katie, as her best friend, as well as a "baller." The younger Benson is an up-and-coming junior for the Snohomish High School (Wash.) basketball team, where Sydney played her prep hoops.

"She looks just like me," said Benson. "Same height, everything - just four years younger."

Perhaps soon enough, another daughter of a preacher will lead the weekly Bible study and co-captain a collegiate team of her own, singing the fight song along the way.

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