WSOC : Benson and VanSickle’s friendship transcended high school rivalry
Syracuse defenders Karrah Benson and Sarah VanSickle capped off their recruiting visit to SU two years ago by asking head coach Pat Farmer if Benson and VanSickle could have the No. 10 and No. 4 jerseys, respectively.
Farmer said yes and gave the question little thought after that. He later discovered the numbers hold special meaning to the pair because Benson’s birthday falls on Feb. 4 and VanSickle’s on Feb. 10-the players wear each other’s birthdays on their backs.
‘I called them up and thought, ‘How silly is this?” Farmer said. ‘It’s OK to jab them about it once in a while.’
Benson and VanSickle have a long history of baffling coaches with their antics. The two women grew up in neighboring Maryland towns and share a friendship that began more than nine years ago when they started playing for the same club team. Their friendship defied the rivalry between their high schools and has blossomed further now that they man the same Syracuse back line.
Benson and VanSickle will lead the Orange into a pair of Big East clashes this weekend. SU travels to Cincinnati for a 7 p.m. showdown today before heading to Louisville on Sunday for a 1 p.m. meeting with the Cardinals.
‘Coming here (to Syracuse) and seeing all these changes, it’s nice to have someone who has the same background as you,’ VanSickle said. ‘You have someone there with you.’
VanSickle hails from Darnestown, Md., and Benson from Germantown, each about 45 minutes away from Washington, D.C. In the spring semester of fourth grade, VanSickle joined the Bethesda Excel club team, for which Benson was already playing.
The two soon developed a bond with each other, one that would later provide for comical moments every time their rival high schools faced each other. The two defenders would mark each other, jousting for loose balls and chuckling all the way.
‘We were beating the heck out of each other,’ Benson said. ‘Both of our coaches were laughing at us the whole time. They pulled us off at halftime and (Benson’s coach) was like, ‘You guys are just getting a kick out of this, aren’t you?”
Despite their camaraderie, the two players almost went their separate ways when choosing a college. They had each set their minds on different schools, with VanSickle nearly committing to James Madison, until the duo decided to visit Syracuse together on a recruiting trip.
VanSickle was smitten with the SU program and agonized over her choice of colleges before finally committing to Syracuse. She then discovered an added benefit of going to school with Benson, who’s rooming with VanSickle this year.
‘It made it easier flying together,’ VanSickle said. ‘Flying’s not always fun by yourself.’
Farmer sure feels glad as well to have Benson and VanSickle on his team. VanSickle started all 20 games last season, while Benson started and played in 17. Together, they anchored a back line that held opponents to one goal or fewer in 12 of SU’s 20 games.
Farmer said the intuitive teamwork between the two creates a ripple effect that benefits the entire back four. The Orange never has to worry about Benson and VanSickle on the right side of the defense, which means the players can spend more time and effort setting up plays elsewhere on the field.
‘There’s a comfort level that comes with playing with somebody you’ve been playing with for a long time,’ Benson said. ‘It’s really easy because I know how to support her. I know what kind of balls she can get and can’t get.’
Often, when the ball floats toward the general vicinity of the two players, they won’t even say a word to each other. Just a simple glance and they both know what the other’s going to do.
‘We skipped that whole getting-to-know-each-other thing, like you had to do with the other players,’ VanSickle said. ‘You just look at each other, and you know she’s going to pass it. She knows I want it on my right foot. She knows the little things.’
With 251 wins and counting in his 30-plus years of coaching, Farmer said the enduring friendships that he sees forming between his players still give him the most satisfaction-even if the friendships come along with quirky requests for jersey numbers.
Benson and VanSickle insist, though, that they picked out their respective numbers years ago as little girls with no regard to each other’s birthdays. Maybe it was fate, or maybe, as the women choose to believe, simply a coincidence.
‘It wasn’t intentionally done, no,’ Benson said. ‘We both realized it later, and we were like, ‘Whoa, that’s weird.”
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