WEST NEWBURY/WILMINGTON — Lauren Bennett has accomplished many things in her volleyball career at both Wilmington High and UMass Lowell. The 2013 graduate of Wilmington High was a co-captain for the Wildcats during her senior season where she was a key member of the squad for her entire four-year career.
She then moved on to UMass Lowell, where she walked on and earned a spot with the River Hawks in their first year as a Division 1 program, improving her game every year from being a part time player in her freshman year to being one of the key cogs on the team in her senior season and winning the Most Improved Player Award for the season.
During her run at UML, she was named the Town Crier’s Female Athlete of the Year.
Clearly, Bennett is not afraid work hard in order to be successful in the sport of volleyball. And that is a good thing, because her latest undertaking may wind up being her most challenging to date. But at the same time, it also might be her most enjoyable, as she attempts to lead another volleyball program in their first year of existence.
Bennett was recently named as coach of the Pentucket Regional Girls Volleyball team, becoming the first ever coach of the team, as they begin play as an independent varsity program, competing against talented programs like Masconomet Regional, Lynnfield and Newburyport, among others.
Bennett knows what she and her team are up against, but she is looking forward to the challenge.
“We realize that we are still far below a lot of the teams that we will play, even though we have improved a lot already since the start of the season,” Bennett said. “I told the team from the beginning that we can’t measure our success based on wins and losses. What I am looking for is improvement and I have already seen so much of that.”
One of the things that has helped Bennett has been her experience as being part of a brand new program. And while it is certainly different being the head coach of a new program as opposed to being a walk on player for a new program, Bennett has relied on that experience in the early going of the season.
“It really does help,” Bennett said. “I try to remind the girls that we didn’t win a single game our freshman year. We were playing against some amazing teams, so we just tried to have fun with it. Our coach would always say that we needed to work on the little things to get better. I didn’t really understand it myself sometimes, but now as a coach I see it, and I try to pass it on to my players.”
In fact, one of the best parts about her job to this point has been the enthusiasm and effort shown by her players.
“Volleyball can be an awkward sport to learn, but we have some very good athletes on this team, and their athleticism and aggressiveness really helps,” Bennett said. “The girls are so committed to the program, and are so supportive of each other and the team, so that is nice to see. It makes is so much easier for me as a new coach.”
Not that Bennett expects anything to be easy this season. She knew heading into the season just how hard it would be, and she gave offer of being head coach careful consideration before accepting. She had been running skills clinics for players interested in joining the program over the summer, trying to get an idea of what kind of interest there was in the community for a varsity volleyball program.
When it became obvious that there was a tremendous amount of interest, Pentucket athletic director Dan Thornton offered her the job as the program’s first head coach.
“I knew it would be a big challenge, but it is something I have always wanted to do, to teach players a higher knowledge of volleyball” Bennett said. “I like the idea of starting from scratch, where nobody has developed any bad habits.”
Bennett recalled something her coach at UMass Lowell, Resa Provanzano had told her when she was a young an inexperienced player.
“She told me I was like a blank canvas, and her coaching style matched up really well with my playing style,” Bennett said. “She talked a lot about mental toughness and always making little improvements, even if it didn’t seem like you were seeing results.”
And while coach Provanzano saw tremendous potential in Bennett as a player, Bennett sees the same in many of her players, especially with their willingness to do whatever I necessary to improve.
“These kids don’t seem to get down on themselves, and they are also quick learners,” Bennett said. “I tell them that if they make a mistake, they need to put it behind them and move on to the next play, and they have been doing that. I will ask them sometimes after matches what we need to improve on and they always have great ideas.
“I will want to tell them mistakes they have made, and they are already aware of them. They want me to push them harder in practice and want to get better. I am very fortunate to have such a great group.”