When sophomore first baseman Emily Benson attended her first softball practice at Western two years ago, she remembers feeling intimidated by the presence of of senior multi-position player Alexie Levin.
Now, with four games left in the 2016 regular season, Benson has broken Levin’s school record for home runs in a season with 12 and is only three home runs away from passing Levin’s mark of 21 for second on the all-time career list.
Although Benson is well on her way to breaking some of Levin’s records, both players are adamant that the record has no impact on their relationship or the overall chemistry of the team.
“I’m proud of what she’s accomplished,” Levin said. “I don’t think it’s competitive at all; it’s actually really never been brought up.”
Benson shares this sentiment, saying that she is aware of the record but doesn’t feel that it puts any strain on her relationship with Levin. To the contrary, Benson said she has admired Levin since coming to Western in 2013 and values the experience of coming up behind Levin.
“I definitely looked up to her coming into this program. Hitting close to her [in the lineup] is a good experience,” Benson said. “Her approach to the game has helped me with mine.”
Head Coach Amy Suiter also said the record is not a point of contention between Benson and Levin.
“We don’t talk about competition for records within our team, so I’m hopeful that they are putting the team first,” Suiter said. “Obviously, Benson has been hot and had a lot of success in her freshman and sophomore year, and I would hope that Levin is excited for her.”
Benson grew up in West Richland, Washington and attended high school in nearby Kennewick. She plans on majoring in education, but said she changes her mind a lot on what she will pursue once school is over.
When not playing or practicing softball, she enjoys reading, hanging out with her friends and attending church with her teammates, something she tries to do twice a week, Benson said.
“Softball has kind of consumed my life since I was younger, so I don’t do a ton outside of softball,” Benson said. “Softball is a lot of work and sometimes you complain about it, but we all literally have no idea what we would be doing if we were regular students.”
With the team poised to lose as many as nine seniors at the end of the season, many of them starters, Benson said she is aware that she has big shoes to fill. While she has been pleased with the improvements she’s made from last season, Benson said she’s not personally satisfied and plans on training hard to keep getting better.
“Coming into next year, I want to be a leader on the team and set a good example, not only on the field but off the field as well,” Benson said.
In terms of what Levin has taught her, Benson said there are many qualities Levin embodies that she hopes to carry forward.
“I really like the mindset she has going into games. When she goes up to bat you just expect that she’s going to get a hit because she carries herself with such a confidence,” Benson said. “I’ve tried to take a little bit of that confidence because it’s so easy to doubt yourself in softball since it’s a sport of failure.”
Despite the turnover that is inevitable in college sports, Levin said she feels the team will be in good hands going into the future.
“She’s definitely one of the leaders on this team,” Levin said. “She’s just really positive in everything she does. Even if she does go through a slump, she know’s that she’ll break out of it.”
Both Benson and Levin have had strong 2015-16 seasons, with Benson hitting .356 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs and Levin batting .360 with three home-runs and 31 RBIs. Benson has been named both Great Northwest Athletic Conference Player of the Week and National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division II National Player of the Week.
Levin has also received GNAC Player of the Week honors and was named a finalist for the Everett Herald’s Woman of the Year award.
With four games remaining and a berth in the GNAC tournament on the line, Western will need both Levin and Benson, as well as the rest of team, to step up to have a chance at postseason play. The Vikings will take on the Central Washington University Wildcats in a double-header at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 22.
Benson is confident in the ability of her team’s ability to pull through the stretch and make it to the GNAC tournament. “We can compete with all the teams in our region, so I think we’re going to do well,” Benson said. “It’s definitely not the best spot to be in, but it’s still possible.”