There are arcs in stories and there are arcs in basketball. Hart basketball’s Nicole Benz is able to see the parabola in both the literary and athletic sense. Benz has had a hand in several activities through her high school career – with basketball, Girl Scouts and the school paper being the three primary focuses. But instead of getting overwhelmed by each of them, she found a way to make them all work harmoniously. “They’re different niches, I guess. It gives me very different people to interact with,” Benz said. “Journalists, (they’re) your Shakespeare-quoting, book-loving nerds. There’s a big part of me that is like that and I love being around those people, but I’m also a jock. I love talking about NBA games.”
Benz was able to link basketball with Girl Scouts for her gold award project and paired basketball with journalism in her sports reporting for the school newspaper. For the gold award, she worked with St. Raphael’s Elementary School in Los Angeles with underfunded sports programs. She put on a basketball camp for the students and donated $2,500 worth of sports equipment bought with money that she raised. Managing her newspaper duties as editor of “The Smoke Signal” was a little more difficult than that. Benz was in need of an elective class her freshman year, and journalism was an option. “I was initially going to do ASB, but I didn’t get into that and honestly it’s been the best thing to happen to me in my four years,” she says. “Because then I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to be involved with (the school paper).” There were days when Benz had to balance tough newspaper deadlines with basketball, especially on the eve of a newspaper release. She went about her usual school day and stayed after to work on the paper until 5:30. Then she went to basketball practice for two hours. Then she’d go back to the paper and stay as late as 10 p.m. to finish the newspaper. “Nicole just doesn’t stop, she never gives up on any play, she does everything well,” said Hart girls basketball coach Terra Palmer. “She goes into everything with the intention of getting it as close to perfect as she can. As far as basketball was concerned, that’s an excellent trait for a player to have. She always came through for us.” Her experience in journalism led her to see the arcs in this year’s Hart basketball season. “I’ve always appreciated the story that’s within everything just being involved in journalism and stuff,” Benz said. “I could see our season arcing out like a story. There’s a rough patch, but then we overcame it and we did a lot of great things, too, during the chaos that is the season.” According to Benz, the climax was the team’s CIF-Southern Section Division 1A first-round playoff game against Buena High of Ventura. The Indians won 57-50. “I definitely think that the biggest thing is not just wins and losses but just kind of the legacy that you’ve passed down to the next couple years, and we had a great group of teammates this year,” she said. Through her four years of varsity basketball, Palmer has seen the plot develop within Benz as a player. “We had the opportunity see her play a little so we knew she had some talent, but we just weren’t sure in terms of her confidence level where that would go,” Palmer said. When Benz was named team captain her junior and senior years, her confidence grew each time. “With the title came more responsibility, and she had more of a vocal role in terms of being a leader,” Palmer said. “If you could draw the perfect student-athlete, she fits. She checks every box. (I watched) the progression of that from being a little shy to being very confident and a strong leader.” Benz will leave for college at Notre Dame in mid-August. While playing for the NCAA Division 1 women’s basketball is a dream (“It’s the school of Rudy, right? You never know what could happen,” Benz said.), she wants to play for a club team or perhaps manage the NCAA team. She’s still torn between sports journalism and a science-related career as a major. She loves basketball, softball, baseball and football, but also had some science and math teachers in high school that might have altered her career choice. “Maybe (I’ll) double major in something or find a way to write for the newspaper if I’m majoring in a science or vice versa, get involved with them in some way,” Benz said. True to her high school habits, she’s still trying to find a way to combine everything in the climb up her next arc.