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It is rare to encounter a player with as much passion and commitment to basketball as sophomore guard Katie Benzan. Born just ten miles from Harvard’s campus, Benzan’s contributions to the Harvard women’s basketball team set her apart from her peers.
Despite breaking the all-time record for three-pointers in a season for the Ivy League—knocking down 99 triples—Benzan’s season culminated in a bittersweet manner. The Crimson fell two wins short of an Ancient Eight title, the only prize that the Wellesley, Mass., native has been fixated on recently.
“We just have to keep working and getting better,” Benzan said. “Every day, just a little bit better, so that come next March, when we’re hopefully at the Ivy League tournament again, all that work can help us beat whoever we’re playing.”
In spite of the disappointing end, Benzan’s season was an integral part of Harvard’s success, especially within the confines of Lavietes Pavilion where the team finished the season with an unbeaten, 12-0 record. After losing in the first round of the Ivy League tournament in her freshman season, Benzan returned to Cambridge committed to helping the Crimson win an Ancient Eight title.
“Katie has natural skill, but she doesn’t rely on that,” senior guard Taylor Rooks said. “She puts all the time in, plus some, to get herself as ready as possible. I’ve never met anyone so passionate about the game of basketball. Her IQ, her skill level—she contributes so much to our team.”
A first team All-Ivy League unanimous selection, Benzan’s steady performance throughout the season only improved during conference play—the sharpshooting guard knocked down an impressive 50 percent of her 102 three-point efforts in Ancient Eight competition. Beyond athletics, Benzan also garnered recognition for her academic efforts, as she was named to the 2018 Winter Academic All-Ivy team.
Despite leading the team in points, minutes, three-point shooting, and assists, much of Benzan’s responsibilities are centered around her leadership. Urgently encouraging teammates during timeouts in a manner uncanny for a player so young, Benzan contributes far more than just statistics to Harvard. The work ethic that the guard has exhibited since arriving in Cambridge is never more apparent than before contests, where Benzan will hoist three-pointers in the hour leading up to tip-off, often the only player on the court.
“She has had a lot of responsibility, since the day she stepped on campus as a freshman, and she’s handled it incredibly well,” Rooks said. “Her growth has been incredible, and I can only see her getting better, as a player and as a leader.”
Benzan’s impact on the Crimson was epitomized by the team’s 55-52 victory over Penn in February, Harvard’s first victory over the Quakers in nine meetings. Struggling mightily from beyond the arc, Benzan converted just one of her nine field goals, seven of which were three-point attempts.
"I don't really think about stats. I just want to win. That's why I came here," Benzan said.
In spite of an uncharacteristic night shooting the basketball, the sophomore played 38 of the game’s 40 minutes, chipping in four assists and three steals. With seconds remaining, Benzan stepped to the free throw line with a chance to ice the game, having only scored three points at that point. The 83 percent free throw shooter coolly knocked down both shots, sealing a victory that stood out as a turning point in the Crimson’s season.
The five-point effort, one of her lowest point totals of the season, encapsulated Benzan’s desire to put team success above individual statistics.
“I don’t really think about stats,” Benzan said. “ I just want to win. That’s why I came here.”
For Harvard to achieve its goal of winning an Ivy League title in the next two seasons, and the berth to the NCAA Tournament that accompanies it, Benzan must continue to help anchor the team, both statistically and through her leadership.
—Staff writer Amir Mamdani can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Joseph W. Minatel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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