In a couple of years, Hannah Benjamin will transition from playing her school volleyball at Greater Heights Baptist Church to the 8,500-seat Memorial Coliseum at the University of Kentucky.
For most, that would seem like a daunting task. Benjamin admits as much, but the Fideles Christian junior is looking forward to moving from GAPPS competition to the SEC.
“I’m excited, for sure,” Benjamin said. “I’m ready for the challenge. I love challenges, and I do well in challenges.
“I feel like Kentucky has the support for their players and students to help them grow and be welcomed into the program.”
Benjamin attended a camp at Kentucky in July 2021, just a few months after the Wildcats capped a 24-1 season with a national championship win over Texas. Almost exactly a year after the camp, Benjamin verbally committed to join the program following her time at Fideles.
“You don’t want to wait, because they’ll be like, ‘Well, I don’t know if you’re interested,’” Benjamin said of committing prior to her junior year. “They’ll kind of move on from you. They were willing to wait. A lot of schools were willing to wait for me to make my decision, which I really appreciated.
“But I was like, I’m not going to commit anywhere else. When you know, you know.”
While being the daughter of a former Florida Atlantic volleyball player certainly helped provide pedigree, Benjamin still made a remarkable climb considering she didn't begin playing club volleyball until the age of 12. Prior to that, her only exposure to the sport came from working drills with her mother, Lori.
“At first, I tried all of the sports and didn’t find anything that I loved,” Benjamin said. “I was peppering with my mom, and it was so much fun. I was like, ‘Can this be more competitive?’”
In 2020, Lori Benjamin landed a role as an assistant coach for Fideles, bringing then-freshman Hannah into the program. Coming off a winless 2019 campaign, the Rangers bounced back in impressive fashion to win the GAPPS Division-II state championship, albeit in a four-team tournament.
Lori Benjamin became Fideles head coach the following season, and the Rangers shifted to Division 1-AA — which, as opposed to Division II, caps the homeschool participants for volleyball at 25%.
Even though Fideles put together another strong year, the Rangers bowed out of the state playoffs in the semifinals with a loss to Lanier Christian.
“It was very emotional last year, because I had a lot of pressure on myself,” Hannah Benjamin said when discussing playing for her mother. “I put too much pressure on myself. … I built all of those pressures up, and then I took it out on her — instead of taking the pressure off of myself and realizing that it’s just a game.
“This year, I stepped back a little bit, took the pressure off and realized it’s just a game. That’s helped a lot.”
Through the end of the regular season, Benjamin has racked up 260 kills, 113 digs, 82 assists and 42 aces.
Entering the postseason, Fideles holds a 13-3 record. All three defeats occurred on the same day, during a tournament at North Cobb.
Facing a trio of strong public school programs, the Rangers fell to Westminster (25-16, 15-25, 15-8), Hillgrove (25-21, 25-19) and Norcross (25-22, 25-23). For context, Westminster is a top-10 ranked team in Class 4A; Hillgrove is similarly ranked among the best teams in Class 7A; and Norcross is in second place in its 7A region.
“We’re a really good team, really talented," Benjamin said of her squad, which includes her sister, Bethany, a seventh-grader. "The girls here are amazing. I love all of these girls. They’re super sweet, super humble.”
As the No. 1 seed in Region 2 Division I-AA, Fideles receives a bye for the tournament hosted by neighboring Pinecrest Academy.
Should the Rangers emerge victorious in the region tourney, they would receive a bye in the state tournament and get to host their quarterfinal match. Creekside Christian in Hampton will be the site of the division's semifinals and championship match.
“We are really good when we are winning and everybody has confidence in themselves,” Benjamin said of the key to finishing out an unbeaten GAPPS campaign with a state title. “Sometimes, including myself, we can get in our heads and start playing individually. That leads to missed opportunities. …
“We just need to build each other up and play as a team.”
Volleyball could lead to plenty of unique and memorable experiences for Benjamin in the future. So many, in fact, that when it's all said and done, this Fideles season could be a mere footnote on her list of accomplishments.
But in this moment, it means everything.
“It’s just a huge accomplishment for us,” Benjamin said of all the team has achieved, thus far. “I’m really proud of us.”