Freshman ‘Benn-efits’

Deanna Stevens

Bennett tries to earn respect of teammates with versatility off bench

Kent State basketball player Rachel Bennett has been working to earn the respect from fellow teammates for being a freshman on the team. Bennett scored 23 points against Ohio last week, earning her MAC East player of the week honors and helping the Flashe

Credit: Steve Schirra

Gaining respect as a college freshman is a tough task. Earning respect on a women’s basketball team, which already has a number of impact players and established itself as a major contender in the Mid-American Conference, is no easy feat either.

For freshman guard Rachel Bennett, earning respect was something that has been important to her from day one.

Bennett said Kent State coach Bob Lindsay told the newcomers, she and forward Samantha Scull, they had the choice to be players everyone liked, or players everyone respected.

“Right away we knew that we wanted to be respected,” Bennett said. “So that’s the mentality I took.”

It is that mentality that has been the most promising, according to Lindsay.

Bennett has been playing basketball since the third grade and attributes her mental toughness to her three older brothers.

“I give a lot of credit to my brothers,” Bennett said. “They pushed me and wouldn’t let me get away with anything.”

She has been earning respect from the team as she has been a staple off the bench.

“She’s brought the ability to play more than one position,” Lindsay said. “She has played point and wing, and it’s been very helpful to us. It’s tough for a freshman to do, but she’s handled it well.”

Bennett has also earned respect throughout the league. Bennett’s 23-point performance against Ohio helped her receive MAC East player of the week honors Jan. 9.

In the game, she was 7-of-11 from the floor and 3-of-5 from 3-point land. A key block late in the game also helped secure this season’s first MAC win for the Flashes.

The transition from high school always has its problems for college freshmen. Fortunately, Bennett had a little help preparing for collegic athletics from a few more family members.

She has two cousins, Allison and Stephanie Bennett, who play basketball for the University of Buffalo.

“They told me to be ready for constructive criticism,” Bennett said. “The coaches are going to get on you to get you to play to your full potential, so you can’t take it personally and just keep playing.”

Allison has already graduated, but Stephanie made her collegiate debut against her cousin at the M.A.C. Center Saturday.

While it may seem that she has everything together now, it was not always that way. Adjusting to large lecture classes and working through the preseason grind were difficult to handle at first, Bennett said.

“I knew I was going to be overwhelmed,” she said. “I just took a deep breath and got my priorities straight right when I got through the door. Every minute I’m not playing basketball, I’m studying.”

Bennett’s decision to come to Kent State was mainly because of the loyalty of the women’s basketball program. She said she was heavily looked at by schools her sophomore year at Marion High School.

But recruiting slowed down tremendously when she suffered a knee injury her junior year. Kent State was one of the few schools that continued to express interest after she tore her ACL.

According to Lindsay, they continued to recruit Bennett because she already had the skill level to play at the college level. In addition, the way she approached her rehab was promising.

Bennett’s abilities were not questioned, possibly because of the impact she had at Marion. In her four years at Marion High School, she averaged 13 points per game and was fourth all-time in points (1160), fourth all-time in steals (285) and second all-time in assists (319).

Lindsay and the rest of the coaching staff were another reason Bennett wanted to be a Golden Flash.

“I really liked coach Lindsay and the way he coaches,” Bennett said. “He pushes you to your full potential.”

Lindsay has pushed players such as seniors Lindsay Shearer and Malika Willoughby to reach record-breaking potential. This could be intimidating for any player to walk into, but Bennett does not feel any extra pressure to prove her abilties.

“I thought I would, but coach Lindsay made it clear that when everyone stepped out on that court, they were equal,” Bennett said.

She may not feel forced to prove herself to the team, but she is motivated to do well by the level of excellence her teammates have acquired.

“When I look at Lindsay (Shearer), Mallorie (Griffith) and Malika (Willoughby), they push me,” Bennett said. “They motivate me because they know what it’s like to be there (championship level). I want to know what its like too. And I want to help get them back there.”

Contact women’s basketball reporter Deanna Stevens at [email protected].