For Thomas Jefferson senior soccer standouts, Anna Dedmon and Victoria Bennett, dribbling and shooting a soccer ball is second nature.
During the winter months, however, these terms take on a whole new meaning as the duo has come off the pitch and into the gym to suit up for the Lady Gryphons basketball team. As a result, the Lady Gryphons have reached their highest win total since the 2008-09 season and the team is more competitive in the tough Western Highlands Conference.
“That’s been our goal from the beginning of the season,” Bennett said. “We may not win a lot of games, but at least we can go out there, play as hard as we can, and compete.”
Neither Dedmon nor Bennett are strangers to competition. Both began playing recreational league soccer at the age of 4, while competing on a basketball court came much later.
“Soccer is really a passion for both of us,” said Dedmon. “Basketball is just a hobby. I didn’t start playing basketball until middle school and even though it was fun, I knew if I could only play one sport, it would be soccer.”
After leading the Gryphons' basketball team to their only playoff appearance in program history her freshman season, Dedmon had to make just such a decision.
“I needed some time to concentrate on my grades, so I didn’t play for the last two years,” she said. “It was nice to have some time to relax and just concentrate on soccer. But this is my senior season, my last chance to play basketball. That’s why I decided to come back this season.”
While Dedmon took a break from basketball during her sophomore and junior seasons, Bennett has played on the basketball team since the Gryphons began NCHSAA play in 2009. The four-year starter has definitely found success on the hardwood. As of Jan. 11, Bennett has garnered over 900 career points and has a chance to reach the 1,000 point plateau before the season ends. During that same span, however, the Gryphons have struggled to find wins, a fact that Bennett admits has been tough.
“It’s frustrating because we have so many good athletes on the basketball team, but we aren’t basketball players,” she said. “That makes a big difference. Most of the team members are soccer players too, and trying to turn a soccer player into a basketball player is really difficult. Also, we play against teams that have players with a lot of experience that we don’t have. It’s hard to compete against that.”
While the games of basketball and soccer may not complement one another, Dedmon possesses one asset that is beneficial in any sport, speed. The speed that has allowed her to amass over 100 goals on the soccer pitch also enables Dedmon to blow by defenders on the court.
“My speed has helped me transition to basketball easily,” she said. “Speed and competitiveness are my two best assets and I just want to use them to help the team.”
Head coach, Jim Greengrass is grateful to have that speed on the court.
“I think Anna is the fastest player in the state,” he said after a recent game. “She makes everyone around her a better player.”
Another link between the two sports for Dedmon and Bennett is Brian Espinoza.
The head coach of the men’s and women’s soccer programs is doubling as assistant basketball coach this season.
“Playing for Coach Bullet (Espinoza) is great no matter what sport,” Bennett said. “But it’s almost like he is a different person when he is coaching basketball instead of soccer. He is so passionate about soccer and he knows the game so well. He expects us to compete at a high level. In basketball, he still wants to win, but he is more relaxed.”
“There is no pressure in coaching basketball,” he said. “There is no pressure on me to win. I am enjoying the challenge and I am learning. As an assistant, I can just give these girls advice. In soccer, that’s my sport, and the pressure is on me and the team to win because of the high expectations our programs have.”
The expectations are indeed high for Dedmon, Bennett, and the rest of the Gryphons' soccer team. After losing in the state title game last season, Bennett says the goal for the 2013 season can be summed up in one word, championship.
“That’s what we all want,” she said. “No question. Everybody can’t wait for the season to start.”
Both Dedmon and Bennett admit that staying focused on basketball is difficult with a possible championship soccer season looming on the horizon.
“After a tough game, it’s hard not to look ahead to the soccer season,” Bennett said. “We just have to keep our focus and continue to work hard.”
“We are both competitors and want to win,” added Dedmon. “I think that’s what keeps us going.”
No matter what happens during the rest of the basketball or soccer seasons, Dedmon and Bennett will continue their playing career after graduation from Thomas Jefferson. Both athletes have been awarded scholarships to play for Division I soccer programs, with Dedmon joining the UNC Charlotte 49ers and Bennett taking the pitch for the Citadel Bulldogs.
“We both kind of realized that coaches weren’t going to come to a small school like Thomas Jefferson,” Dedmon said. “So we went to them through camps and clinics all summer long. I guess somebody liked the way we played because we got recruited.”
“Going to Trinidad helped a lot too,” Bennett added. “It gave us so many valuable experiences that we could not have gotten any other way.”
With Dedmon and Bennett attending college in the same area, it is a distinct possibility that the teammates could face each other in the future.
“That would be different but fun,” Bennett said. “We have played each other before on different club teams, but doing that in college would be special if we got the chance.”
For now, however, Dedmon and Bennett are still teammates in the midst of a high school basketball season and there are still some goals left to reach.
“I just want these girls to continue to have fun playing basketball,” Espinoza said. “That’s what sports in high school should be about anyway. Individually, I would love to see Victoria score over 1,000 points for her career. She is such a modest and hardworking player. She deserves the accomplishment.”
Dedmon’s and Bennett’s goals are much less specific.
“For the rest of the season, I just want to see the team give maximum effort every night,” Bennett said. “We know we are not the most talented team, but we can still try our best.”
“We just have to keep our heads up, not get discouraged, and keep fighting,” Dedmon said. “If we do that, I think good things will happen.”