Bruin performs quite a balancing act
Of all the girls who got the opportunity to wear the cardinal and gray of a Bear River High School athletic uniform this school year, Bruin athletic director Jack McCrory nominated Jessica Benzler for the Sac-Joaquin Section’s A. Dale Lackey Scholarship Award.
“Well, you met her, didn’t you?” McCrory said. “What’d you think?”
Apparently, the consensus on Benzler was that she more than deserving of the nomination. She deserved the scholarship. She was chosen as the Pioneer Valley League’s recipient of the Lackey Award, which provides her with a $750 scholarship. Those funds are the result of the section-wide basketball and volleyball foundation games played prior to preseason portions of prep sports schedule.
Benzler isn’t the first Bruin to receive the award. Kelsea Halverson won a $1,000 scholarship, honored by the Sierra Foothill League, in 1997. Forest Lake Christian’s David Hicks, along with Nevada Union’s Cody Godfrey and Lauren Zealear were among the 2003 honorees, each awarded $500 scholarships. Last year, Nevada Union’s Amanda Poteet earned a $500 award.
During a recent interview with Benzler, one thing became crystal clear early on: she’s been one seriously busy Bruin. Her resume reads like a complete listing of every extra-curricular activity offered on the South County school’s campus.
The medals, ribbons, trophies and memories she’s collected in being a four-year letterwinner in both golf and track and field do not begin to scratch the surface. In addition to her sports accomplishments, she’s racked up more rewards in the classroom.
She’s ranked fourth in her class and has scored high enough on the SATs to essentially double the digits required for admission at some schools.
But, still, her resume reads on.
Let’s see, she’s participated in leadership programs such as the BRHS Link Crew Program and held offices in others, such as her stint as treasurer for the BRHS Leo’s Club.
On Friday nights, for the past two falls, she’s been on the sideline of Bear River’s football games, supporting the Bruins as a team water girl. And, if she’s not somewhere around campus, chances are she could be found on the golf course Ð competing in junior program events or working a part-time job at DarkHorse Golf Club.
“I know,” she says almost apologetically, “looking at me on paper, I look like I don’t have a social life at all.
“But I definitely do. Don’t worry about that.”
The truth is, she said, some of items on her hectic schedule actually act in somewhat of a therapeutic manner. That’s especially true when she’s dancing, which she’s been doing since she was 3 years old.
“When I go into that dance room, everything else goes away,” she said. “I love dancing. It’s just me having fun. It allows me to get away.
“That was the incentive to get out of diapers, because they said ‘ballerinas don’t wear diapers.'”
She was also introduced to the game of golf at an early age, as her father, Jeff Benzler, showed her the swing. Her stepfather, Richard Adam, also played golf – ven organizing an annual family tournament known as the “The Adam Cup” each year.
But Jessica didn’t actually take up golf until her freshman year at Bear River.
That fact makes what she accomplished in her prep career on the golf course all that more impressive. She was a two-time All-Pioneer Valley League honoree, a three-time MVP for the Bruins, including her senior year in which she was named team captain.
She remembers playing alongside former Bruin Allyson Harvie, who earned a scholarship to play for Ohio State. Harvie, she said, had much to do with her love for the game.
“When I golfed with her, she was what made it fun for me,” Benzler said. “She taught me a lot, like with the etiquette of the game.
“She was wonderful. She definitely was like a role model for me. She’s just a great person and I miss her.”
She said she’s talked to coaches at the colleges she’s considering and weighing the possibilities of trying out for a spot on the team.
“I know I’m not good enough to be on their travel teams, but there’s a possibility of being a walk-on,” she said. “If I could, I’d probably do both (golf and track and field), but I think I have a better chance in golf than I do in track.”
She’s been competing in throwing events since the seventh grade, when she was introduced to the discus. During her freshman year, coach Scott Savoie had each athlete try each event. When it came to the discus, Benzler noticed a natural feel for the event. Her dancing background served as an advantage, one she needed while typically competing against field of young women much stronger in stature.
“It teaches you where your center of balance is,” she said. “It teaches you discipline and grace and really helps with your coordination. I think it provided a really good base for the sports I did.”
Sure enough, her initial impression was correct.
She was a 2004 section qualifier in the discus, throwing a career-best 120 feet, 8 inches while competing in the subsection. Her throwing coach, McCrory, was blown away.
“She just launched the best throw of her life,” McCrory said. “It’s just such a contrast with her, competing against some really big, strong girls in the discus.”
She’s been accepted to all the schools on her short list Ð University of California, Berkeley; UC Santa Barbara; UC San Diego; and UCLA Ð and now has to choose. She admits that Berkeley – which she’s visiting this weekend – is currently in the lead, for reasons more personal than academics or athletics. She said she doesn’t want to miss her 7-year-old brother, Michael, growing up.
“A year ago, I would have been jumping up and down to have gotten into UCLA,” Benzler said. “I realized, though, that I still wanted to be close enough to still be in his life.”
Of course, that would also mean being closer to home, in general.
“My mom (Linda) is my biggest fan,” she said. “She never actually pushes me into doing things Ð except maybe to fill out applications for scholarships, and that’s completely understandable.
“But she’s never been like ‘You have to stick with this or with that.’ She’s always been receptive to what I want to do. The only thing she pushes is the education. And it when it comes to that, she won’t hesitate to say something.”
Whichever college she chooses, both sides are going to get their money’s worth.
She plans on double-majoring in the likes of psychology and astrophysics Ð the subject of her senior project – with dreams of working at NASA one day.
“She is just one young lady headed in the right direction,” said McCrory, considering why he nominated her for the Lackey Award. “All of the girls in our league who were nominated are all just incredible kids. But I was real proud that our league chose her.
“Jessica is just an all-American young lady. Just a wonderful young lady.”
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