Volleyball's showstopping Ashley Benson
By Jeremy Gray
Oct. 7, 2009
She possesses the devastating combination of an ideal physiology for her sport, breathtaking athleticism, and a competitive arrogance that comes around once in a generation for a program. She is on pace to demolish almost all of the school's significant offensive records. Opponents prepare all week to defend her and are still chopped up like Barbie dolls when they are introduced to a lawnmower.
Her name is Ashley Benson. She plays volleyball. And with due respect for all of the other fall sport athletes, she is, without question, the best show in town.
Benson has been great all season, but it was her staggering performance against arch-rival Purdue that prompted me to write this column. Last Wednesday, she destroyed a talented, but ultimately helpless Boilermaker squad on national television.
Against the Boilers, Benson piled up more kills than the Red Baron, blocked magnificently and hushed a crowd of 3,000-plus with her brilliant play. But it was the way that she played in the fifth and decisive set that warrants the most attention. Purdue knew that Indiana was going to set her the ball, that Ashley wanted the ball, and that setters Mary Chadouin and Whitney Granado were determined to get it to her. But she was thrown a curveball when she dived for a pass and sprained her ankle.
One would think that a jumping jack like Benson injuring her ankle would be like a surgeon losing his or her small motor skills. But this was Purdue, and Ashley Benson would not be denied. Her teammates set her the ball, and bad ankle and all, she decimated the Black and Gold.
On one particular exchange, the ball was set to Benson on the far right side. Every available Purdue player charged the net to block -- a very unusual strategy. Benson unloaded a missile that went in front of the entire front row and landed on the line on the opposite end of the court. Several Boiler defenders were huddled in a defensive crouch as the ball whistled by.
In a manner that can only be described as Jordanesque, Ashley Benson put her team on her back and carried it to a huge victory as the Hoosiers went on to knock off their rivals. Her team had just beaten Purdue, she played through pain, her performance approached transcendence, and she left it all on the floor. Overcome by emotion, she conducted her post-match television interview in tears.
But the Purdue performance has truly become the norm for the 6-3 junior. The numbers she has put up so far this season have been nothing short of ridiculous. Barry-Bonds-on-steroids ridiculous.
There is a statistic in volleyball called attack percentage. It considers the total number of kills, minus errors, divided by the number of attack attempts. To continue the baseball comparison, just like a batting average, an attack percentage of .300 is the sport's benchmark for excellence.
Indiana as a team is attacking at a very respectable .252 clip. Ashley Benson? A preposterous .418.
How about against good competition?
Against No. 16 Michigan State, Benson hit .545.
Facing No. 6 Michigan, the Bloomington product hit .571.
Against No. 14 Kentucky, she ripped the Wildcats by hitting .560.
Benson is literally playing in a higher league than everyone else on the court. She flies higher, hits harder and covers more territory than anyone she has faced. In one match against a respectable opponent, Benson threw down a kill, and the opposing team started laughing in amazement.
Her father, Kent, was a three-time All-American basketball player at Indiana and had a long career in the NBA. After one dominating performance, I remarked to him that his daughter might be the best athlete in the family. He laughed, shook his head and offered no protest to my assertion.
Folks, get to Bloomington and watch this kid play. Her exploits are borderline mythic, and I defy a sports fan to find a more charismatic protagonist. Trust me, it will be the best five dollars you spend this fall.