When Southern Illinois coach Justin Ingram talks about the leadership qualities of junior outside hitter Yael Benjamin, he’s getting more than most realize. That’s because Benjamin is likely the only player in Division I who has served two years in the army, in this case for her native Israel. So, while Benjamin might not lead the team in sets played, she does in real-life experience. “She does everything right in trying to help this team be great,” said Ingram, starting his fourth year at SIU after three as head coach at Arkansas State. “Some people have that innate leadership ability just in how they think and how they operate. Whether it’s academically or if it’s socially. She is so talented within that portion of it. Even if she didn’t play she would have incredible high impact on what we’re doing. “It could still be her team.” And the truth is Benjamin will battle for playing time. She played in 15 sets last year and winning a starting role in 2015 is a long shot. “The goal is always to do my best,” said Benjamin, at 6-foot much taller than the average Israeli woman. “And of course I wish to donate as much as I can to the team in every aspect that I can. If it’s on the court, if it’s before the games or after the games, I’ll do as much as I can. My goal is to play, but whatever the situation is i’ll do my best to make this a winning team.” When Benjamin got out of high school, she was not only a member of the Israeli national volleyball team, but she served in the army. And that wasn’t always easy, she said, describing long days and tough travel in order to train and play. Not coincidentally, however, she said, “My leadership scores were pretty high.” One of her volleyball coaches and strong influences was legendary Israeli coach Arie Selinger When the opportunity came to play American college volleyball, Benjamin said she really liked SIU and the Carbondale community. Ingram found her through a recruiting service. “I had traveled in the States in different places,” Benjamin said. “But the people I have met here around the university are very kind and I feel like in this area people are very nice to you. Some areas in the States it seems like everyone is living in their own world, but here it’s more of a community place and it’s fun. I really like it. And the Southern Illinois area is so green compared to Israel.” SIU finished 16-15 last year, 10-8 in the Valley. This year’s team has just one senior in middle Taylor Pippen. And SIU’s roster is quite multi-national, just as it was when Ingram was an assistant at Kansas State. SIU’s roster this year includes Meg Viggars, a junior from England, Canadian freshman Tara Soutliffe, Colombian sophomore Andrea Estrada, Mariana Pilon, a junior from Brazil, and Swedish sophomore Nellie Fredriksson. “It’s fun and we share experiences,” Benjamin said. By the way, there are other Israelis in American college volleyball, including Gilad Doron, head coach at the University of San Francisco who was an Israeli national team player for 10 years. His assistant, Eyal Zimat, is also Israeli and they’ve had a couple of Israeli players in the past, Rebecca Kopilovitch and Inbar Vinarsky. Natalie Melcher, who played at Central Florida, has transferred to Division II Nova. And another worth noting is UC Irvine standout Tamir Hershko. one of the best players in the men’s game. —— The L.A. Times was all over the Manhattan Beach Open. Of course, all the results are at AVP.com, but check out this read about how old guys can still rule the beach at: https://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-avp-manhattan-beach-20150816-story.html And for the tournament wrap-up, go to: https://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-avp-manhattan-beach-20150817-story.html —— The AVCA preseason poll came out last week: https://www.avca.org/divisions/division-one-women/poll-8-12-2015/ and it looks really familiar: 1. Penn State, 2. Stanford, 3. Texas, 4. Florida, 5. tie, Nebraska and Wisconsin … The only non-BCS schools in the top 25 are No. 11 BYU, No. 12 Colorado State and No. 18 Hawaii. There were nine from the Pac-12, six from the Big Ten, three from the ACC and two each from the SEC and Big 12.
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