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In conversation with Varsity basketball star Sarah Bennett

Reflecting on athletic beginnings, COVID-19, MD hopes
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COURTESY OF HENRY ZHAO/VARSITY BLUES
COURTESY OF HENRY ZHAO/VARSITY BLUES

While she may not have been literally born with a basketball in her hand, fifth-year eligible forward Sarah Bennett came close. Both of her parents were varsity basketball athletes in their collegiate days and her brother was a professional basketball player in Europe. “I just kind of grew up being around basketball, going to watch basketball… I grew to get really passionate about it.” 

The Varsity sat down with Bennett to discuss how this upcoming season has affected her relationship with basketball.

Bennet often watched U of T women’s basketball games when she was younger. Her early days were filled with clues of a hoop dream. 

“I always dreamed of playing university basketball; watching those girls was really inspiring for me.”

Given her family’s background, it is no surprise that Bennett found success as an athlete. As a multi-sport athlete, she excelled on the basketball court, joining numerous teams during her time in high school, and won a bronze medal in the 2013 Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations championships for swimming. 

Her exceptional play caught the eyes of recruiters during her senior year of high school, and she eventually committed to play at the University of Toronto. Just like that, Bennett had followed the footsteps of her mother and became a proud member of the Varsity Blues.

Fast forward to 2020, Bennett has become a star on the U of T roster. Sarah has cemented herself as a cornerstone of the team through her hustle and motor on the floor. While her success is undoubtedly rooted in her relentless work ethic and drive, Sarah stayed humble and attributed her improvement throughout the years to her coaches. 

She spoke of the efforts they put in to help her sharpen not only her technical skills, but also to help her develop her basketball IQ and make her a better all-around player. “You have to earn every minute on the court and I’d go to every skill session I possibly could, I would try to do more than what the coaches were asking us to do so I could earn my minutes, so that I can play and really improve myself.”

This effort has clearly paid off, as she leads the team in rebounding despite being an undersized forward.

Like many fellow athletes, COVID-19 impacted Bennett in a way beyond merely stopping her from exercising. When faced with the reality that the season may be candled, Bennett was confused and worried. Not only was she concerned with what it meant to her athletic career, but she also dreaded another factor that came with the pandemic: her team and teammates had become such an integral part of her life, and this would mean their interaction would now be limited to Zoom calls.

“All of a sudden one day, we were just told [that] all the practices, all scrimmages, all weights are just cancelled… After a few weeks… we were kind of confused, we really wanted to play basketball.”

To further complicate this issue, Bennett was also dealing with a torn meniscus and had to rehabilitate her injury with limited medical help as Toronto shut down. The difficult situation, however, did not stop Bennett and her team from trying to improve. 

Between Zoom workouts and regular check ins, Bennett and the team continued to push themselves and each other with the help of their passionate coaching staff. “We try our best to work on individual skills and do things that were in our control in order to develop ourselves as players during this time since we couldn’t actually play together.”

Bennett remarked that the challenges of COVID-19 served as an ultimate reminder of how much basketball meant to her: “You don’t realize how much you love to do something and how much you take things for granted until you can’t do it anymore.”  

Looking into the future, Bennett’s basketball path is unclear but hopeful. Slated to graduate with her degree in medical physiology, this year would have been Bennett’s final year of eligibility.

She hopes an admittance into a doctor of medicine (MD) program will allow her to claim back the year that was abruptly taken from her. 

“If I do end up getting in [to an MD program] that would be great. I would try to play my last year of basketball if that was the case. I know it would be pretty difficult but I feel very motivated and I’m just so passionate about basketball that I would find a way to make it work.”

Bennett is also open to the idea of playing professionally overseas. “If I were to not get into med school then I would consider going to play pro.”