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Monday, April 15
The Indiana Daily Student

sports volleyball

It runs in the family:Benson named All-American

Benson becomes first IU volleyball player honored

volleyball

On May 19, Ashley Benson and her IU volleyball teammates will begin a trip through Europe — uncharted territory — to face some of the finest youth players from Italy, the Czech Republic and elsewhere.

Benson might be playing in Europe for the first time, but by now she knows a thing or two about uncharted territory.

After becoming IU volleyball’s first-ever All-American last December, she ensures the Hoosiers will have one of the United States’ finest amateur players on display during their two-week European excursion.

The Third-Team All-America selection says the honor is still sinking in.
“Just hearing that all my work that I’ve built up throughout my career here has gotten me that title, I think it’s awesome,” she said. IU coach Sherry Dunbar agrees.

“I thought she was very deserving of it,” Dunbar said “When we watched her ... playing against the best in the country ... and her hitting percentage and blocks per game and all those types of things, I felt she had a legitimate chance to be an All-American.”

Dunbar, whose first season at IU in 2007 was also Benson’s initial campaign with the Hoosiers, adds that the ability of the senior middle blocker to play as well as she did in the ultra-competitive Big Ten conference made the designation that much more of a sure thing.

“You can be a great player and not be in a conference like this, and it’s tough to be an All-American because you’re not playing against the best,” Dunbar said. “I thought she was very well-deserving of it, but I also thought she earned it because she’s worked very hard throughout her career so far and she’s given a lot to this program and this University.”

Even after posting a school record .361 hitting efficiency and racking up 150 total blocks — 17 shy of her 2008 mark of 167 — Benson was still in “disbelief” when she first heard the announcement.

“I was sitting in Coach’s office, and I had no idea why I was in there — she made it sound like she was angry at me, so I came in scared,” Benson recalled. “She sat me down, and a whole bunch of people came into the office, and she told me that a certain amount of people have a special amount of abilities that get them places, all this stuff, and I was like, ‘OK, where’s she going with this?’”

Benson said when Dunbar finally broke the news to her, she burst into tears.
“I just started bawling, crying,” she said. “I couldn’t say anything. Literally, it was like seven minutes. I was just in disbelief.”

However, people familiar with IU might not find a Benson garnering All-American honors difficult to believe.

Benson’s father, Kent Benson, made the surname legendary while starring on the IU men’s basketball team.. He earned All-American honors twice, including during the 1976 undefeated national championship season.

Growing up in Bloomington, the younger Benson grew used to being labeled as Kent Benson’s daughter, but upon arriving at IU, she sought to emerge from her father’s shadow.

“I told him that my freshman year, and he was like, ‘You know you’re going to have to do a lot of hard work,’” she said. “I was like, ‘OK. I’d like to take that challenge.’”
Nearly three years later, that mission’s accomplished — or almost, the two Bensons say.

“I talked to him after the (end-of-season) banquet,” Benson said. “He said that he was just so proud of me, and he said that I’m almost there, so I’ve still got some work to do.”

Like her father, Benson’s first love was basketball until taking up volleyball at Bloomington High School North. She says she never imagined having this degree of success in the sport.

“When I came in, I didn’t know that much about volleyball, to be honest,” she said. “At North, all I knew was to hit the ball hard and to block the ball when I could, and I never thought in a million years that I would be breaking records and becoming an All-American.”

Yet that is exactly what she has done, and her teammates are excited for her as well.
Rising senior middle blocker and right-side hitter Taylor Wittmer, whose has played with Benson since pop club volleyball, said the honor is great for the program.

“I just thought it was awesome,” Wittmer said. “I think having that type of recognition for IU, putting us on the map, is definitely a great thing because people will look at us and say, ‘Oh, they are producing one of the best.’”

Dunbar agreed, adding that “success breeds success.”

“Any time you have All-Americans and kids see that, that’s ultimately what you want to do,” Dunbar said. “You want to be an All-American, you want to play on the national team, you want to play professional volleyball. So to be able to see that you can do that at Indiana, absolutely it helps our recruiting, and it helps her.

“It’s wonderful to see her be the first All-American — somebody from Bloomington that understands what it means to go to school here and what it means to play for Indiana.”
While Benson has relished the individual joy that has come with her unprecedented achievement, she hopes being an All-American sparks more success within the program.

“I wouldn’t be able to have the title of All-American without the team,” Benson said. “Without them behind me, it would be impossible, because you can’t just do it all alone. Hopefully we’ll have some more All-Americans in this bunch, and if not in this bunch, then future players.”

The desire to make a jump to First Team All-America is also there, but for now, she is excited about fulfilling another dream: traveling to Italy with the team in a couple of weeks.

“I was almost born there because my dad was playing overseas,” she said. “I’ve heard so many stories about it, and I’ve just wanted to visit and spend a great opportunity to fulfill a dream.”

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