NORTHEAST TIMES; 'GETTING THEIR KICKS'
Courtesy of Melissa Yerkoff, Northeast Times
Philadelphia, Pa. – Melissa Benson just can't get enough of Holy Family University's soccer program. Sure, last year's season is long past and this year's run won't start for another month, but Benson can still be found on the Tigers' pitch. The soon-to-be junior, who is versatile as a midfielder and a defender, volunteered to coach last week's Tigers soccer summer camp, helping youth athletes from 7 to 15 years of age.
“The whole point is to keep the kids involved in the game of soccer and to teach them,” explained Benson, who has volunteered with the camp for the past two summers. “I think each day they learn a little more, and you can tell, because when we scrimmage later, you can see them doing the things that we taught them.
“I work with all the little ones,” she added, referring to the youngest bunch, ages 7 to 9. “I hope they're learning. They look like they're having fun.”
This year's camp attracted more than 100 local soccer players to Holy Family's Northeast campus. They were divided into age groups and teamed up with the various instructors for more individual attention.
In addition to Benson, fellow Tiger standouts Megan Tole (Philadelphia, Pa./Archbishop Ryan), Seydou Ba, Ed Szambelak and Ira Woodruff coached the camp as well.
Tole — a product of Archbishop Ryan who is the only women's soccer player in Ragdoll history to have her jersey number retired — netted 13 goals and 29 points for the Tigers last season.
Ba earned a solid reputation with the Tigers as well, claiming a place on the National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-East Region third team and the Daktronics Inc. All-East Region men's soccer second team in 2009.
North Catholic High School and Holy Family graduate Szambelak was selected to numerous all-conference teams and honored as a regional all-American. In addition to volunteering for the Tigers soccer camp, he'll be joining the coaching staff as an assistant for the men's squad.
Woodruff, also a North Catholic alum, saw plenty of game action as a freshman last year and will resume his duties this fall. A versatile competitor, he can work as a midfielder and defender.
The camp is directed by head coach Mike Bradby, with help from Bill O'Neill, an inductee of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Soccer Hall of Fame and a coach for the Philadelphia Soccer Club.
“They're having the best time right now. The little kids, they love it,” O'Neill said of the Holy Family camp.
The camp teaches such basic soccer skills as dribbling, passing and shooting. There are skill drills and scrimmages.
“We learned step-overs and how to pass,” said camper Brenna Eddis, 9, who also plays for the Lighthouse Soccer Club. “We play games. It's a lot of fun.”
Although Benson has no formal coaching background, she has plenty of experience working with youngsters.
“I have two younger siblings and I've umpired and refereed before,” said Benson, who helped out at the Fox Chase Recreation Center. “My sister Morgan is actually taking the camp. She's here.”
Benson, one of six children in her family, has spent much of her life on the soccer field. A product of Little Flower High School, she was a three-sport athlete for the Sentinels, excelling in soccer, basketball and softball.
She was named first-team All-Catholic during her junior and senior soccer campaigns. During that senior season, Benson was an All-State honoree who was selected as the most valuable player of her team and also the Catholic League Red Division.
“High school soccer really prepared me. How we were playing at Little Flower is basically how they play here,” she said, referring to Holy Family. “I kind of got to feel the intensity of it.”
Benson instantly made a name for herself with the Tigers. She started all 23 games during her rookie season, netting six goals and four assists. Holy Family went 13-9-1 overall and claimed the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference championship title — the seventh in school history.
During her sophomore season, Benson had a pivotal role on her squad, starting all 20 games. The Tigers went 13-6-1 overall en route to their second consecutive CACC Tournament Final but suffered a heartbreaking loss, 2-1, to Georgian Court.
“We were really let down last year. We should have won, so now we want to go back to the championship and win,” said Benson. “Last year and this year I was a midfielder, but at the end of the season, one of our defenders got hurt, so basically I'm a midfielder and defender now. I don't really know where I'll be playing this year — I'll go wherever they need me.”
Holy Family will resume practices in August in preparation for the fall season. She'll also be returning to the classroom and her studies toward a degree in accounting.
“I'm excited to get back. It'll be fun,” Benson said of the new soccer season. “It's very competitive and the team is great.
“I like it here a lot,” she added. “I look forward to this summer camp every year, and once this is over, I look forward to starting the season.”