This story was originally published online on August 4.
For most Cornell students, a European tour epitomizes the ideal summer getaway. For senior point guard Lauren Benson, it’s just another day at the office. Point guard training camps have become a sort of habit for the second-year captain, who once again devoted a significant portion of her vacation to readying for the upcoming season. This time, however, Benson’s preseason preparation took her across the Atlantic to Austria, the Czech Republic and Italy, with USA Athletes International –– an organization that provides amateur athletes with the opportunity to compete on an international stage.
Benson was selected for a team comprised of other Division 1 women’s basketball players from such schools as Central Michigan University, Vanderbilt and the University of Colorado. Along with the rest of the U.S. squad, Benson, who was recommended for the team by Cornell head coach Dayna Smith, played seven games against foreign competition –– six of which were hosted in the Austrian capital of Vienna at the Pentecost Tournament. After playing two games a day against teams from all over Europe, Benson and company eventually advanced to, and won, the championship game.
The U.S. squad then headed six hours north to Brno, Czech Republic, for a matchup against a much-older Polish national team. All of Team USA’s wins came by considerable margins, and its victory against Poland was no exception. After scoring 110 points in the contest, the team was “bombarded” by Czech fans asking for USA apparel, acknowledged Benson. Cornell’s representative said she was able to exchange her U.S. shooting shirt for a Slovakia scarf.
As a junior, Benson led the Red in assists per game (5.2) and earned All-Ivy accolades for the second-straight year. She also ranked third on the team in points per game (10.1) and rebounds per game (3.9). Over the course of the 2008-09 season, Benson notched 134 assists –– good for third all-time in Cornell’s single-season assist rankings. She enters her final season with 299 career assists, which currently puts her at No. 6 in school history.
Benson hopes that her summer experience playing with new teammates will benefit her this upcoming season, as the Red welcomes an uncharacteristically-large incoming class of six freshmen. As a point guard, Benson noted the importance of being able to recognize different scenarios and get a read off of her teammates.
By no means was the trip all work and no play, as the U.S. team was able to enjoy several staples of European culture –– sampling local favorites like wiener schnitzel and gelato, taking a gondola ride through the canals of Venice and touring the world-renowned Murano glass factory. Besides enabling her to prep for the 2009-10 season, the tour also served as a reminder for Benson as to why she loves playing the game of basketball.
Benson and her Cornell teammates return to Newman Arena on Nov. 13, when they open their season at home for the first time in over eight years, against Duquesne.