All-Tribune girls swimming: Kelli Benjamin - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

All-Tribune girls swimming: Kelli Benjamin

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Posted: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 5:48 pm | Updated: 3:23 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Kelli Benjamin is afraid she’s sounding corny.

Between the movie-like improvement and the dream finish, this year played out better than she could have imagined, and she’s trying to explain how it felt on the day she won two state swimming titles.

“I don’t mean to be cheesy,” she said, “but when I touched the wall and saw that time, I felt like everything was on pause.”

The Gilbert High senior began swimming competitively as a freshman in high school, and she wasn’t very good. In the state preliminaries that year, she finished 23rd out of 24 girls and couldn’t break one minute in the 100-yard freestyle.

Fast forward three years later, and Benjamin finished this season as a state champion in both the 50- and 100-yard freestyles, earning her the Tribune’s Girls Swimmer of the Year award.

She didn’t have any experience when she joined the swim team at Gilbert, so it wasn’t a huge surprise for her to struggle. But Benjamin’s competitive nature kicked in, and she worked hard to become a top swimmer.

“I had no idea what to expect that first year,” Benjamin said. “I was clueless. But I just remember being so disappointed. I’ve always been very competitive, like, ‘Let’s race to see who can get to the water fountain first.’ If something’s in my way, I always try my hardest to get past it.”

The first barrier for Benjamin was the one-minute mark in the 100. Once she passed that, it was onto another goal, and another. Some were big, others small to keep pushing her. But going into this season, the end goal was huge.

“I wanted to win state, that was my biggest goal,” Benjamin said. “Fortunately it worked out.”

Benjamin didn’t feel right in her preliminary races on Friday, but after a pep talk from her swim coaches and a good early relay race on Saturday, she knew it was now or never.

The 100-yard freestyle was up first, and fellow swimmers later told Benjamin that she acted like a different person leading up to the race.

“I pretty much had a mental block of everything,” she said. “I was just focused. I kept visualizing my race, had music in my ears. People said I looked so mean getting on my blocks. I was just in my zone.”

Benjamin swam a solid race, finishing in 50.19 seconds, more than a second ahead of Xavier’s Alisha Bender for her first title.

Then it was the 50, where she finished in 23.07 seconds, narrowly beating Red Mountain’s Samantha Guttmacher.

Benjamin will continue her career next year at Texas A&M, but she won’t forget those races for a long time.

“It was sort of surreal for me,” she said. “Hearing everyone screaming your name, it was like I was in a football stadium. I actually did what I wanted to do. It was so cool.”

All-Tribune first team

Name                           School        Year      Event           Comment

Kelli Benjamin              Gilbert           Sr.         50 free       State champ in 50, 100 free

Alisha Bender               Xavier           Jr.        100 free       2nd place to Benjamin with an All-American time

Kat Simonovic        Mountain View   Sr.         200 free      Fastest in state; also won 500 free

Carly Stevens              Arcadia         Jr.         500 free       State champ in Division II

Leticia Lelli                Chaparral        Jr.         100 fly         Fastest time in state; won 100 back as well

Talie Anchustegui         Xavier         Jr.         100 back      2nd to Lelli, also 2nd in 100 fly

Katie Olsen             Desert Vista     Sr.        100 breast    Won state title despite sickness

Megan Cox               Chaparral        Jr.          200 IM         Division I champ; 2nd in 500 free

Chloe Hacker        Corona del Sol    Fr.        Diving          Division I title

Swimmer of the Year:  Kelli Benjamin, Gilbert

Coach of the Year:  Laura Winslow, Chaparral: Led the Firebirds to second-place finish in first foray into Division I

All-Tribune second team

Name                                   School          Year    Event       Comment

Samantha Guttmacher    Red Mountain    So.       50 free      Second in Division I

Kyra Zsiga                          Xavier              Sr.       100 free    Third in Division I

Clara Jenck                   Mountain Pointe   So.       200 free    Third in Division I

Ally Loper                      Desert Mountain   Sr.       500 free    Third in Division I

Briana Jurries                Valley Christian   So.       100 fly       Division II champ; also won 100 breast

Alexis Daswick               Notre Dame       Jr.        100 back    Second in Division II

Elaine Casap                     Xavier             Sr.        100 breast  Second to Olsen in Division I

Sara Jurek                      Chandler           Sr.         200 IM         Third in Division I

Kyra Tatlow                    Westwood        Fr.        Diving         Second place in Division I

Honorable mention

Cactus Shadows: Belen Enguinados, Sr., 100 fly; Mesa: Ciara Jenkins, Sr., 100 breast; Mountain View: Chloe Mennega, Diving; Notre Dame: Samantha Getzen, Fr., 100 fly; Saguaro: Evelyn Beguiristain, Sr., 200 IM.

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