SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Former Troubadour Jill Haas Benson has been named one of seven individuals chosen for the first St. Francis Athletics Hall of Fame to be inducted this Saturday in a ceremony in the St. Francis gymnasium.
"It is super exciting and a little unexpected," said Benson. "It has been a long time and there have been a lot of good athletes at St. Francis. I am impressed that my name has stayed around a little bit. I decided to go to St. Francis last minute as a public school kid and when I bought in, I loved it. It was the best experience of my life."
She represents two of the school's outstanding programs. She earned Sacramento Bee All-City honors in two sports, garnering the accolades for volleyball (1991-92) and softball (1991-93) for the Troubadours. Overall, she earned seven varsity letters during her time on campus.
"I enjoyed both of them," said Benson. "I played baseball up until high school and switched to softball in high school. I had not played volleyball the middle of my eighth grade year. I liked the speed and team work in volleyball but I loved the personal part of softball."
Each sport fed different areas for Benson.
"We had a good group from the class of 1993 that went through volleyball together," said Benson. "We had the comradery, enjoyed making the warmup tapes and hanging out together. I loved the down time, which is crazy because I loved playing. The community of our volleyball team was very cool. We were pretty tight."
On the diamond, Benson recalls the practices and team chemistry built in the dugout.
"I loved practices at softball," said Benson, who played catcher for SF. "What you do in the down time in softball, inlcuding crazy inside jokes and things we made up were the fun stuff I remember."
Benson benefitted from a coaching staff including volleyball's Alynn Wright and softball's Kevin Warren and Al LoGiudice that still run their programs today.
"It is crazy," said Benson. "I told Alynn I can't believe you are still there. Alynn's first year was my first year. It is cool and obviously she is awesome because the program just keeps doing great. They were great when I was there and they have gotten better. They (Kevin and Al) are neat guys and it was fun playing for them, and to be still going, showing their love of softball is awesome."
Benson originally attended UC Santa Barbara for her freshman year of college but returned to Sacramento to play for the Hornets under legendary Sacramento State volleyball coach Debbie Colberg, who coached her in club.
"Coach Colberg told me, 'This is where you are meant to be'," recalled Benson. "It is what I felt like when I was there. She let me play my style and so did Coach Kathy Strahan in softball. I am pretty hard core all the time. When I came back, it was an easy decision because it felt good and simple. I could excel there because the atmosphere was right for me coaching wise especially."
She went on to a standout career at Sacramento State becoming the school's first Division I All-American in volleyball in 1995. She helped her team to the NCAA Tournament and was named Big Sky Player of the Year after finishing second in the nation with 6.05 kills per set to go along with 4.69 digs per set and a .292 hitting percentage.
She told her coaches, "I am going to one of the best in the nation this year" and strived towards that goal.
"I worked really hard all summer," said Benson. "I committed intensely to being good. For some reason, it all came together. When you are hitting good in baseball/softball, the ball looks huge. I could see everything on the court (that season). It does not happen often. My team around me was awesome and we were working hard together."
Benson was also a two-time Second Team All-Big West (1997-98) in softball and was chosen for the Sacramento State Hall of Fame in 2004.
She adds a second Hall of Fame title to resume on Saturday.
"It is really cool because when I came in as a freshman, wide eyed, I wanted to make a mark but not just with me but with our group," said Benson. "We had a pretty good athletic class. I am very excited to be part of the first class and (join the Hall of Fame) with the 1993 basketball team who were friends and people I respected."
Benson has since become a coach herself, getting into the profession shortly after graduation. After playing baseball in the Northeast and with the USA Baseball women's program, she worked as an assistant volleyball coach at Rhode Island. She met her husband Wade, who was coaching at Eastern Washington, while out recruiting.
She has been coaching club volleyball for 16 years in four different states and has been a high school coach for the last 11 years. She is currently the head coach at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, Wash., where she coaches her freshman daughter Bailey. She and her husband also have a 16-year old son Grady.
Benson will be inducted as part of the inaugural Hall of Fame Class on November 17 at 6 p.m. For tickets to the dinner banquet in the St. Francis Gymnasium, click here.