Katie Benz opened her senior season in resounding fashion. With 10 goals and three assists in the first eight matches, the forward found herself ranked among the top five in the nation in scoring through the first third of the season.
Benz was having the breakout season she had hoped would come a lot sooner. Injuries sidelined the soccer standout for portions of each of her first three years at Cal, limiting the forward to just 29 career games entering her senior season.
A starter and co-captain, Benz was Cal's main offensive weapon in 2011. Benz was the primary focus for opponents, who did little to stop her offensive prowess. She was at the top of her game and realizing the tremendous potential she had on the pitch.
Unfortunately, Benz encountered the same fate this fall that had plagued each of her previous three seasons. While fighting for a loose ball in a match at Santa Clara on Sept. 25, she collided with her defender before falling to the ground. The senior had suffered a leg injury that resulted in an abrupt end to her 2011 season and Cal soccer career.
"It was a 50-50 ball," Benz explained. "It wasn't dirty at all. We both went in for the ball and I was kicked. I knew exactly what happened right away."
What happened was a trip to the hospital and season-ending surgery.
"On the field, I thought 'Did this really just happen?' Benz explained. "I have had a difficult past couple of years as far as injuries go and I was finally healthy and then this happened. It is pretty unbelievable."
Loved by her teammates, Benz has received constant support since the injury.
"I was in the emergency room the night of my injury and I got about 30 texts," said Benz. "I tried not to read them right away because it was in the heat of the moment. They have all been really supportive. I want to be on the field, but stuff happens. Things happen and there is nothing I can really do about it. They know that and it is unfortunate. They want me to be there and I am happy to be there for them. I am not angry about it because I am still able to be with my teammates."
A mature Benz knows she can't look back on what might have been and has quickly focused on how she can still help the Bears achieve their goals this season.
"I have had a lot of support," Benz said. "I can't see myself not being around the team and I think everyone knows that. Soccer is what I have done my whole life. It would be weird if I didn't remain with the team. It would be unnatural. I feel like they need me and I need them so I am not going anywhere."
She is still a fixture at training sessions and tries to be at all team functions when not receiving treatment on her leg.
"Now that I can't play, I want to take a different approach to where my leadership is," the co-captain said. "I am still going to be that lead-by-example type person, but I want to be the middle-man between my teammates and my coaches and make sure that relationship remains strong and vocal. It is a good thing to have a good relationship between the two, and I think in this position I am in now I am in a good place of doing that."
"Katie proved herself to be one of the most feared goal scorers in women's soccer this year," added head coach Neil McGuire. "It was very sad to see her season end through injury, but now she provides great leadership to the players from her new role. Katie is an outstanding young woman, funny, charismatic, smart, motivated and very serious when it comes to winning. She has a very bright future."
The legal studies major may continue her education beyond graduation and enroll in law school, but she has one other true passion.
"I love to sing," she said.
Benz is a dual citizen who has family in Canada, where she is contemplating moving to and beginning a singing career. The talented Benz cites her favorite song as "Desperado," which she has been performing for many years.
While her future may involve entertaining fans with her eloquent voice, Benz's current role is to cheer on her teammates this weekend as the Bears host UCLA Friday at 4 p.m. and USC Sunday at 1 p.m.
"We work for each other and I believe that will make us succeed," said Benz. "We need to play for each other. In order to play well, we need to show our passion for the game and put everything out there."
While the Bears will miss her presence on the field, they need her just as much now as a motivational leader on the sidelines and she will be right there every step of the way.