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All Area 2013: Benoit at top of the game

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

If a clutch gene exists, it's encoded in Smith Center High School senior Sydney Benoit's DNA.

The 5-foot-9 point guard isn't flashy. She isn't the tallest player on the court, and she's typically not the fastest. But when the ball is tipped, Benoit takes herself to another gear.

At the Class 2A state tournament, Benoit did exactly that, averaging 24 points and nine rebounds per game en route to Smith Center's first state basketball title.

"I would put her as one of my top two players of all time in terms of her value to the team," said head coach Nick Linn, who just completed his 21st season at the helm of Smith Center girls' basketball.

Linn said Benoit is a gamer. That's why when the game was on the line, he wanted the ball in her hands. For her efforts, Benoit was named the Player of the Year on the 35th Annual HDN All-Area Basketball Team.

At state, she was as cool under pressure as it gets.

In the state title game, Benoit scored 14 of her 25 points in the final six minutes and finished 26 of 34 from the free throw line in the state tournament -- three makes away from the Class 2A tournament record.

She tied the 2A tournament record for free throws made in a game in the semifinal, making 15 of 21.

"When the game is on the line, our team understands she is the one we go to," Linn said.

In the cavernous hexagon of Bramlage Coliseum, Benoit easily could have wilted with all of that pressure, but she didn't. Game after game, she played the best when it mattered the most.

"I just knew at the end of the game, I had to put it in," Benoit said. "I think we all thought that. We needed to make those shots."

For the season, Benoit averaged 19 points, nine rebounds, 3.6 steals and 3.7 assists per game on her 24-2 squad. She had to play big minutes on a team with little depth and with a bench that got shorter and shorter as the season progressed as injuries cut down the squad.

Benoit played an instrumental role with the Lady Red. When she sat on the bench, there was a noticeable difference.

In the state semifinal, Smith Center led by 11 points when she got her fourth foul. Three minutes later, Sterling got it within five while Benoit watched from the bench.

When Benoit reentered the game, she took control and stopped Sterling from completing its rally.

"We had to have her out there," Linn said.

Basketball has been a significant part of Benoit's life since she was in fourth grade. She played with her older sister McKenzie Benoit's class and then later on a MAYB team, which included players from Beloit, Lucas and Lincoln.

At Smith Center, she's played varsity since she was a freshman. Now that her prep career is over, she plans to play basketball in college and is leaning toward Hutchinson Community College.

Though she's had a ton of success on the court, Linn said Benoit doesn't let it get to her head, describing her as down to earth and focused on the team. She's also an honor roll student, averaging close to a perfect GPA.

"She is so unselfish," Linn said. "She is such a great kid."