Getting their kicks

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, 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.

ldquo;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.” ••

Ed­it­or Melissa Yerkov can be reached at my­

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