When Marcela Benitez ’07 stepped on campus at the beginning of her senior year, she thought her year would be fairly predictable: Benitez would fulfill requirements to complete her major, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and would play goalie on the women’s club soccer team and serve as a co-captain. But all that changed just days after her return to the Elm City when Benitez was asked by the coaching staff of women’s varsity soccer to don a varsity jersey.
“At first, there was a very big mix of emotions between being given a second chance and having to give up prior activities,” Benitez said.
After the first-string varsity goalie, Chloe Beizer ’07, suffered an ankle injury during a preseason practice, the varsity coaching staff turned to Benitez, who played varsity during her freshman year. After taking a year off from soccer, Benitez joined the women’s club team as a junior. Although varsity and club players alike said they are excited that Benitez has this opportunity, the club team is left without a senior goalie and one of its captains.
Varsity head coach Rudy Meredith said that while it is rare for a club sport athlete to move to a varsity team, he feels that Benitez will serve the team well.
“Marcela had always been my first choice,” Meredith said. “She was the logical choice.”
Despite already having one other goalie, Susan Starr ’08, Meredith said it is essential to have at least two goalies in case one is injured and because replacing a goalie is much more difficult than replacing field players. Also, because Benitez had already played on the team, her transition back to varsity was smooth, both in terms of NCAA regulations and in terms of team chemistry.
Amy Backus, the assistant athletic director of compliance, said Benitez’s move to varsity only consisted of filling out the NCAA forms required of other varsity athletes.
“Student athletes have four seasons of eligibility to compete,” Backus said in an e-mail. “Club sport seasons don’t count. She only used one of hers, so it was not an issue.”
Varsity Captain Christina Huang ’07 said the addition of Benitez to the team will be “a great help,” and since Benitez played with the team’s seniors during the 2003-’04 season, she is familiar with many team members and the way the team works.
“I feel like I’m already part of something even though I’ve just started,” Benitez said.
And even though Benitez does not know the three classes below her, Huang said she is “great at getting to know people” so the move will be that much easier for all involved.
“I know that she’ll give everything she’s got,” Huang said.
Benitez’s original decision to leave the varsity team was “complicated,” but included the fact that she was simply tired after playing the game for much of her life.
“Soccer was my top priority for so long and it just wasn’t fun anymore,” Benitez said in an e-mail. “I guess I got burnt out and I knew that to improve I would have to dedicate all my time to the sport but when the passion is gone it’s hard to do that.”
Benitez took her sophomore year off from soccer, and joined the club team during her junior year. At the end of the year, she was voted one of four co-captains. When given the opportunity to rejoin the varsity team, Benitez said she struggled with the decision because of the commitment she had made to the club team. But ultimately, she decided to take advantage of her second chance to suit up for varsity.
While Benitez’s move has been largely positive for the varsity team, it has put the club team in a difficult position. Without their starting goalie, the student-run team had to rely on Rosario Doriott ’07 and whomever they were able to recruit during tryouts.
“We lost some leadership,” senior club member Katie Melamed ’07 said. “She was a fun person on the field … It’s been tough but we’re doing fine.”
Though disappointed in her decision to leave the team, many members of the club soccer team said they hope for the best for Benitez.
“We miss Marcy and wish her the best of luck,” club team co-captain Lindsay Eisenberg ’07 said.
Now, with a second chance, Benitez hopes to successfully compete at the level of competition that she did during her freshman year.
“I would like to be in a position where I’m playing like I used to be,” Benitez said. “I want to prove to myself that I can do it.”
Although she is disappointed not to be playing during her senior year, Beizer said she appreciates Benitez’s decision to rejoin the team. She also said she has the “utmost confidence” in Benitez’s ability.
“It’s heart breaking not to get to play my senior year,” Beizer said in an e-mail. “Really, I’d do anything for the good of my team; including, of course, stepping aside and letting someone else fill my spot.”
While Huang admitted it is difficult to know what will happen on the field as a result of Benitez’s addition, she said she was pleased that the addition of another goalie can allow the team to better prepare itself for competition. With only one goalie, the team approach toward the keeper, Starr, changed somewhat, Huang said. Without a second goalie, the team did not feel as though they could be as aggressive during practice, but with Benitez’s arrival, the team is again game-ready.
Like Huang, Benitez said she is adjusting well to her new role and looks forward to seeing what the team can accomplish this year.
“I’m expecting a lot from the team which has got a lot of talent and can go really far,” Benitez said.