ARLINGTON, Va. – Annetta Benjamin had finished her freshman season at a college in Pittsburgh when she played in a women's summer basketball league that held games at Marymount University.
Her first year at Carlow University had not gone so well.
"I really wasn't connecting with the coaches," recalled Benjamin, who played at Hayfield High in Fairfax County.
Benjamin met a Marymount player, Gen Schmitt, that summer whom she knew since Schmitt went to nearby Bishop Ireton High in Alexandria. And that positive experience at the home of the Saints stayed with Benjamin after she decided to leave Carlow after the first semester of her sophomore year.
The defensive-minded player enrolled at Marymount to play for Head Coach Bill Finney, and her timing could not have been better.
"He was like a father almost," she said of Finney. "I really loved and respected him. He helped me mature as a person, not just as a player. He was concerned with your overall well-being as a player, and with academics."
Benjamin came off the bench as a sophomore and gradually saw more playing time as the year progressed, and the Saints advanced to the Sweet 16 during the 2000-01 season.
"I saw her play in the summer league. We had a great team coming back" the season Benjamin transferred to North Arlington, Finney said. "She was a player I tried almost every practice how to (figure out) how to use her to be more effective. She had to learn about playing our system. She really was a hard worker and quick learner. She wanted to be the best she could be."
By the time her career was over, after strong years as a junior and senior, Benjamin had set several school and conference records.
Upon graduation, she ranked fifth in the CAC in average steals per game at 2.2, was seventh in average rebounds per game at 7.0 in the CAC, and sixth in field-goal percentage at 43.7.
She was named a 2002-03 Second-Team All-CAC player and a 2003-04 First-Team All-CAC player, D3hoops.com Second-Team All-American, and a WBCA/Kodak All-American Finalist. She was a 2003-04 Academic First-Team All-District performer, ending up with a 3.93 grade-point average and was a First-Team Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar. Benjamin was also a two-time CAC Scholar Athlete and Dean's List member, closing her senior year as the CAC Female Scholar Athlete of the Year.
"She was one of the best defenders I have coached," Finney said of the 5-foot-7 Benjamin, who was able to play under the basket. "She wasn't a great shooter but wanted to learn how to be a scorer."
One year in the CAC tournament, Benjamin guarded the top scorer for York (PA) College, who had scored 30 points in the previous game against Catholic, according to Finney.
Against the Saints, with Benjamin guarding her, that player didn't score.
Many times Finney would have Benjamin guard the best player on the other team.
And on offense, the veteran coach would give her the ball at the top of the key and let her work her crossover against taller opponents, such as one time against a 6-foot-2 player for St. Lawrence.
Through two and a half years with the team, she helped the program to two Capital Athletic Conference titles, and three appearances in the NCAA tournament. Following the Final Four season in 2002, the Saints went onto the Sweet 16 the next year before advancing to the Elite Eight Benjamin's senior season.
One of her teammates at Marymount was Ashlee (Courter) Rogers, now the head women's coach for the Saints.
"She keeps updated on what is going on," said Benjamin, who has attended Saint games in the past.
What was her favorite memory?
"Making the Final Four. We lost in the CAC championship that year but then we got a bid and went to the Final Four," Benjamin said. "That was one of my favorite years."
Benjamin, who also did her master's at MU, has excelled off the court as well.
She graduated with a degree in psychology and for about seven years has run her own counseling service near her home in Lake Ridge, Virginia. Among the interns, she has worked with MU student-athletes, including a member of the women's basketball team last season. Her son has attended basketball camps at MU in the past.
Editor's note: David Driver is a special consultant to the MU athletic department. He can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com