Feb. 21, 2007
By Conor Laffey
You wouldn't know it if you talked to her.
You wouldn't guess it if you saw her walking around campus. You probably wouldn't notice it if you were watching her play basketball.
But if you've been following the career of Washington State senior Kate Benz, you'd know.
You'd know that she is the Cougars' team leader, not by what she says, but by what she does.
You'd know that her determination and work ethic have propelled the two-time Pacific-10 rebounding champ to storm into the WSU record books. As Benz's final chapter closes on her collegiate career, she is five rebounds away from claiming WSU's all-time career rebounding crown.
With two conference games against the Oregon schools and the Pac-10 tournament remaining on the Cougar 2006-07 schedule, Benz looks to enter WSU's record books.
But if you sat down and had a conversation with Benz, records would be the furthest thing from the discussion.
"I feel proud of being able to bring a little recognition to Washington State through my personal accomplishments," Benz said. "I would have preferred to have the wins over any kind of personal award."
During her four-year reign as one of the elite rebounders in Pac-10 history, Benz is on track to become one of two players to pull down 800 boards and is 18 points away from being a member of the exclusive 1,000 point club (where only ten players currently reside). The only other person to record 1,000 points and 800 rebounds is Cassandra Overby, who Benz is set to pass as the school's all-time career rebounder.
Benz has had a pretty steady career as a four-year letter winner at WSU. As a freshman, she saw significant playing time and was able to pull down 187 rebounds during that time, but it was her sophomore year that put Benz on the map as one of the elites in Cougar basketball. With a 9.1 rebound average, Benz's efforts were no longer kept secret as she became the first Cougar to lead the conference in rebounding. She lived up to the hype her junior season as she defended her Pac-10 rebounding title by turning in another 9.1 rebound per game effort.
Benz will also be remembered for her ability to put the ball through the hoop. Throughout her career she has consistently kept her scoring average to around nine points. In her sophomore season she averaged 10.1 points per game.
It all didn't happen overnight for the four-year starter. Benz came to WSU after three years playing for the Central Catholic High School Rams of Portland, Ore., under head coach Sandy Dickerson. During Benz's senior season as a Ram, she led the team to a fourth place finish at the State basketball tournament, and it wasn't until then that universities started to take another look at the versatile player.
"In the State tournament, finally some of the coaches who hadn't spent any time watching her got to see how multifaceted she is on the court," Dickerson said of her former star.
Benz's time at Central Catholic helped her have an immediate impact on the Cougar team as a freshman.
"I went to a high school where we had to work really hard, and I came into college using that experience," the power forward said.
Through her hard work at practice and during her personal time, Benz acknowledges she is one of the lucky players who was never forced to miss a game due to injury. During her four years at WSU, Benz has played in every game. Although Benz sustained a back injury that has bothered her for most of this season, the two-year captain chooses not to use that as an excuse when she steps out on the court for every game. Already this year, Benz suffered a black eye after receiving an elbow after going for, what else, a rebound.
As Benz leaves WSU, she recalls many games during her four years that stick out including her freshman year's 75-72 upset over Arizona State in 2004. Benz admits that at the time, she had no idea it was such a big win. This year Benz experienced a little revenge as the Cougars defeated Oregon State in the Pac-10 opener, in Corvallis, Ore. Both Oregon and Oregon State passed on recruiting the Portland, Ore. Native, and Benz was able to get the last laugh.
"I will remember that game for a very long time," Benz added. "It was a road win, and it was the Pac-10 opener, and that was something that we've [WSU] never done here during my four years."
Even though Benz would have loved to leave WSU with more wins rather than All-Pac-10 honors, rebounding titles, or even as the all-time rebounder in WSU history, she has helped shape a team that has continually been improving.
"Kate has laid the foundation of what hard work is about," WSU Head Coach Sherri Murrell said. "Everybody on the team respects her, and this year they respect her differently as she has played through so much physical pain."
The relationship Benz has had with all of her coaches throughout the years has been very special to her. Each one has influenced the way she plays the game, which can be very common in an athlete's life, but the special thing about Benz is that she, in turn, has influenced her coaches as well.
"She is one of those players that is missed not only on the court but in the locker room," Dickerson said. "She's very outgoing and just a great person."
"I appreciate her as a person and when you appreciate someone as a person and you really care for them, your relationship just grows and grows and grows," Murrell said.
She will leave a legacy as one of the great female athletes to ever compete at WSU. Benz's efforts on the court will never go unnoticed as she will be spotted through the record books for years to come, but her image of being a great person and a true leader shows she is, and always will be, the true example of what it means to be a Cougar.
"I couldn't ask for a better four years here, and I'm going to really miss calling Pullman my home," Benz said.