WILLIAMSTOWN -- What’s in a pair of shoes? The simple answer is a pair of feet. In this case, Jenna Benzinger’s.
But it’s not the feet that are the issue; it’s the shoes, more specifically what kind she’s wearing more and more these days.
The Mount Greylock freshman is focusing her time on basketball for the first time this season. For the 10 years before last, the 14-year-old had let dance rule her time. She did everything from tap, jazz and ballet to modern dance.
Not so any more.
"It wasn’t really like one experience. It’s just when I’m on the court, it’s weird but, I just get so happy, and I just want to smile the whole time," she said. "I just have a lot of fun with a team and doing a team sport and bonding with other people."
Originally a shy, keep-to-herself teenager trying to make it on the varsity, Benzinger has broken out of that shell, become more vocal and is showing flashes of what lies ahead for this 6-foot-2 center.
While her willingness to open up and talk more on the court has helped her transition to the varsity game, her experience in the dance studio may have just as much to do with that, if not more.
Much in the same way many hockey players take figure skating lessons at a young age to help with balance, her time spent mastering dance routines has given her an understanding of how to use her body, specifically her feet. It’s an attribute not all tall players have, particularly at a young age.
She’s been hearing about how great her footwork is for years from travel coaches.
"I feel like that’s from dance because you work a lot on where your feet go," she said. "I think I feel really comfortable in my body after doing dance because I know which part of my body to use when I’m posting up."
Her post play, both offensive and defensive, has taken off in recent weeks. Coach Paul Barrett says that’s because she’s been able to receive more individualized training now that the early-season work is out of the way.
At Friday’s practice, while the rest of the team was running through a passing and sprinting drill, she was at the far end of the gym with assistant coach Tim Bornt, who is about 5-11, working on receiving a pass in the paint, and then finishing. Bornt said he’s typically the one who works with her, using a football shield (a big pad to soften contact) to give her some resistance.
He’s been able to see first-hand how she’s progressed lately.
"She’s just starting to feel comfortable getting down low and making a move," he said. "Just the last couple of games we noticed that she’s actually getting the ball down low, instead of immediately dishing it out, not even giving it a look at the hoop. She’s starting to make a move, get the defenders off in the air, then she’s going right up strong. That’s good progress."
Benzinger’s shown a knack for blocking shots, not just once, but twice on a single player in rapid succession. An unofficial count of the Mounties’ last two games had her at 14. Her height also lets her grab most rebounds, although she’s still working on reading the carom.
Her prowess around the rim has taken the responsibility away from players like Mackenzie Flynn, Sarah Stripp and Lucy Barrett. That’s allowed them to break out into transition more, which has given Greylock more easy baskets.
Her size, as to be expected, is also creating mismatches in the paint, which can be good for her, as well as her teammates.
"I’m always encouraging her to take it one-on-one and when I think that she can get it, and I’m making sure I’m verbally communicating that with her because I know that she may not have as much confidence as she does in her finishing and going to the basket, but I have a lot of confidence in her," junior Lucy Barrett said. "Then she’s always is good about when she’s getting double-teamed, she always sees me on the three for the kick out."
Benzinger may still be a couple years away before making any college visits, but she knows she wants to play at the next level. While getting there will likely cause her to miss other extra-curricular activities, it’s a safe bet the arts will still have a significant role in her life.
She still sings and performs in musical theater. Her most recent project concluded Saturday. The school’s choir has been selected to be featured in WGBY-TV’s "Together in Song: Season 4" and is slated to air in late March.
To reach Josh Colligan:
or (413) 496-6297.
On Twitter: @EAG_DigitalJosh.
The Berkshire Eagle
High School Sports Coordinator
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To: Colligan Josh