Benson: A family affair at Keene State

(L-R) Samantha, Riley, and Jackie Benson

KEENE, N.H., 4/23/10 – It’s been another busy spring sports season for Jeff and Nancy Benson. A few times each week, they depart from their home in Hampstead, making the all-too-familiar trip to Keene or traveling to various lacrosse locales around New England to watch their son Riley and daughter Samantha play for Keene State College.

If both Riley and Samantha have games on the same day, they aren’t deprived of parental support. Jeff and Nancy split up, each going to a different contest.

Fortunately, the fall season is much more manageable, with Samantha’s twin sister Jackie playing for the Keene State field hockey team. “You can count on one hand the number of games we’ve missed in the past five years,” said Nancy, who also makes the trek cross state for sundry celebrations, including birthdays. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m so proud of them.”

Jeff and Nancy have a reason to be proud. The Bensons have thrived in their respective sports at Keene State. Riley, a senior, has been a mainstay at midfield for the men’s lacrosse team the past two seasons, while Samantha and Jackie, both sophomores, have utilized their speed and stick skills to become key contributors to their Owl teams.

While their sports might be different, the Benson bunch has much in common. When asked about the Benson on their team, men’s lacrosse coach Mark Theriault; Amy Watson, the field hockey coach; and women’s lacrosse coach Katie Arsenault are quick to point out not only their athletic talents, but, more importantly, the work ethic that each brings to the field.

“Riley doesn’t score a lot of goals, but he does all the intangibles that help us win,” said Theriault. “He has a great attitude, and that earned him the role of captain this year.”

“Jackie has a nose for the goal and is one of the best finishers we have,” said Watson. “We use her coming off the bench because she gives us such a spark.”

“Sammy is one of those players you put out there and know she’s going to give you everything she’s got,” said Arsenault. “It’s a trait of all the Bensons. You get raised that way and that reflects on how you play.”

The Bensons, including an older brother Ryan, come from strong athletic stock. Both Jeff and Nancy were standout athletes who went on to star at rival Plymouth State. Jeff played lacrosse, while Nancy was a member of the Panther field hockey and lacrosse teams.

As you might expect, sports was a big part of the Bensons’ upbringing. “We grew up around sports. It was pretty much second nature,” said Riley.

At the age of three, Samantha and Jackie were already getting athletically acclimated, racing around the field with miniature field hockey sticks in hand, while their mother coached a middle school team.

Leading up to high school, both parents also coached their kids on a variety of youth league and middle school teams. If they weren’t involved with organized activities, the Bensons were usually in their backyard throwing or kicking around a ball of some sort.

All three Bensons went on to play at Pinkerton Academy. Riley was an All-State soccer player, and he was also a member of the school’s top-notch lacrosse program. In addition to playing on the on the highly successful Astros women’s lacrosse team, Samantha played a year of soccer before joining Jackie on the Pinkerton field hockey team as a sophomore.

Because they concentrated on different sports, there was no sibling rivalry. Instead of being competitive, the twin sisters were super supportive. “We pushed each other, not as rivals, but as a way to improve,” said Jackie.

So how do three athletes with Panther parents end up at rival Keene State? Riley joined a flood of Pinkerton players who ventured west to join the Owl lacrosse team. Admittedly swayed by their older brother’s pleasant experience at KSC, Samantha and Jackie became converts two years later. “When I decided to come to Keene it was like starting a new family chapter,” said Riley.

The thought of splitting up never crossed the twins’ minds. “I can’t imagine going to a different school. We’ve always been together,” said Samantha.

All three Bensons have been members of very successful and historic teams at Keene State. As a freshman, Jackie, a LEC All-Star last fall, helped the Owls capture their fifth-consecutive LEC field hockey championship. In lacrosse, Riley, nicknamed “Scooter” because of his speed, was on the 2007 men’s team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament and finished the season ranked 17th in the country. Samantha helped the Owls hoist their first LEC women’s lacrosse championship banner last spring.

The Bensons get together for an occasional lunch and try to attend each other’s games if their schedules permit. “We talk almost every day, but at the same time we have our own lives,” said Samantha.

This spring is the last time the three Bensons will be together at KSC. Riley, an elementary education major, graduates in May, while Samantha and Jackie plan to move farther apart when they return to campus next fall. “Next year, we’re not living close to each other,” said Samantha. “We’re getting older and can’t always be together.”