Katie Benzan leaves Harvard basketball

The calendar has not even turned to September and we have our first major development of the 2019-20 season.  The Harvard Crimson broke the news that rising senior Katie Benzan, a three-time first team All-Ivy guard, has decided to step away from the program and end her Ancient Eight career.

“Katie has been a remarkable player in our program for three years,” head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said in a statement emailed to the paper. “After much discussion with the coaching staff, she has decided to step away her senior year.”

The 5′ 6″ guard from Wellesley, Mass., arrived at Harvard in the fall of 2016 from the Noble & Greenough School.  In her five years starting at Nobles, she went 125-8, amassed 2,153 points and was named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2015-16.

Benzan was named Ivy Rookie of the Week six times in her first year, and earned a spot on the league’s first team.  She was seventh in the conference in scoring with 13.4 points a game and tops in assists with 4.2 per contest.  In addition, her 83 made three pointers set a team record and her 39.2 percent shooting from the outside was fourth best in the Ivy League.

In her sophomore campaign, Benzan again led the team with 13.5 points and 3.8 assists per game on her way to a unanimous selection to the conference’s first team.  Her outside shooting improved, as she made a league-best and program-record 99 three-pointers.  Her 45 percent three-point shooting was good enough for sixth in the nation.

Last year, Benzan again led the team with 14.3 points and 4.2 assists per game, while increasing her team record with 103 made three-pointers.  Her 3.43 made three pointers per contest was seventh-best in the country.  In a year where she topped the 1,000 career point mark and earned her third first team All-Ivy award,  the biggest highlight was being named ESPNW’s National Player of the Week after her 19-point, 10-rebound performance in a road victory at then-No. 14 California.

Benzan ends her Harvard career first in made three-pointers (287), seventh in points per game (13.7), sixth in assists per game (4.1) and 14th in total points (1,223).

While Benzan led the Crimson to its upset of the Golden Bears, the team’s first win over a ranked opponent since the historic first round 1998 NCAA Tournament victory over No. 1 seed Stanford, she could not find a way to get the program back to the Big Dance.  In each of her three years, Harvard finished the regular season in third place and got knocked out of the semifinal round of the Ivy League Tournament.

Despite being on the losing end of a shocking 91-62 semifinal loss to Penn at the John J. Lee Amphitheater in what would prove to be her last Ivy League game, Benzan provided one of her most memorable moments as a member of the Crimson.  In a moment of huge disappointment, she led her team and coach at the postgame press conference as she explained the shocking result.

What’s next for Benzan is unclear.

It is possible she will save her last year of eligibility to become a graduate transfer. If she does, she will continue a recent trend of All-Ivy players without histories of injury or previous transfers leaving their Ancient Eight teams in order to pursue scholarship opportunities at high major conferences. Here’s a sampling:

  • Dartmouth’s Alex Mitola, a second team All-Ivy in 2015, announced he would graduate after his junior year and transferred to George Washington for 2015-2016.
  • Penn’s Tony Hicks, an honorable mention All-Ivy in 2014 and 2015, chose to sit out his senior season (2015-2016) and moved to Louisville for 2016-2017.
  • Dartmouth’s Evan Boudreaux, a second team All-Ivy in 2016 and 2017, left the Big Green on the eve of the 2017-2018 season, graduated in the spring of 2018 and chose to attend Xavier for 2018-2020.  After Chris Mack left for Louisville, Boudreaux reopened his recruitment and decided to take his talents to Purdue.
  • Cornell’s Stone Gettings, a second team All-Ivy in 2018, decided to sit out his senior year (2018-2019), graduate a semester early and head to Arizona, where he will play in 2019-20.

What’s next for Harvard is also unclear.

With the loss of Benzan added to the graduation of Madeline Raster, Sydney Skinner and Nani Redford, Harvard will be without its top four guards from last season.  This group contributed to 58% of the team’s points, 86% of its made three_+pointers and 61% of its assists.

Without this foursome, Delaney-Smith will have to look to a returning group of guards that provided 11% of the team’s minutes, 6% of the points, 8% of the made threes and 6% of the assists.  She will also look for a breakout star or two from her four incoming guards Gabby Donaldson, Lola Mullaney, Sara Park and Annie Stritzel.

Delaney-Smith is fortunate to have a strong front court with senior Jeannie Boehm, junior Jadyn Bush and junior Rachel Levy.  In case the coach cannot get similar production from her new backcourt, this group should be ready to play a larger role as the team looks to win its first regular season title since 2008 and secure a spot on its home court for the 2020 Ivy League Tournament.

2 thoughts on “Katie Benzan leaves Harvard basketball”

  1. Katie Benzan has been one of the Ivies’ best, and I say that grudgingly as a Penn fan. She practically carried her team into the Ivy tournament in the spring, and even in the bad loss there to Penn her talent and grit were evident to everyone in the arena. I cannot imagine Harvard being competitive without her this year, which won’t bother me much, but Ivy basketball will be poorer.

  2. Wow! You truly know the game of basketball and have a keen eye for skilled player talent Mr. Baron! Yes I agree, “I cannot imagine Harvard being competitive without her this Year” and Yes, “Ivy basketball will be poorer”………

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