Last week it was announced that Lexington's Denise Benson was being recognized as Ohio's Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year by the U.S. Track and Field Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).
Benson has been Lexington's coach for 22 years and in that time she has won five girls state titles and two boys state titles, along with being named the Brooks Inspiring Coach for 2017. Recently, Benson's team pulled off a four-peat, winning four girls titles in row since 2017.
"I was very excited (when I found I got the award). This is the second time I've received the award, the first time was actually for the boys." Benson said, "So when I heard that I received it this time for the girls. I thought "this is a perfect balance". I feel honored that I've been recognized as both a coach of boys and girls."
On the announcement page for the award winners a few of the factors were listed such as: team score and placement at the state championships, margin of victory, performance against rankings if available, individual championships, and how their teams' performances stacked up to previous years (e.g. first title in school history, consecutive titles, etc.).
When asked which of the aforementioned factors she felt weighed most heavily into her appointment of the honor, Benson had this to say:
"I think (the four-peat) was a huge factor. Not only is it super hard to continue to win, but also COVID-19 changed so many variables." Benson said, "We didn't have of our big meets and it was a brand new venue. It was extremely hard to pull this off."
Despite all her success Benson has remained humble praising her athletes and coaching staff for the team's success.
"I've been blessed to have the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time and to build the program from the very start. I've had incredible athletes, a lot of support and a great coaching staff. I think it's a lot of things coming together," Benson said.
Benson's athletes however heap an equal amount of praise on her. Two Lexington seniors Halle Hamilton and Joana Halfhill, who were with the team for all four titles in the four-peat, cited Benson's ideology for training as to why the team is so successful.
"She has an overarching system, she'll tailor it to you, but with the goal of everyone coming together to achieve something that we couldn't do on our own," Halfhill said.
"The amount of time she spends formulating workouts and tweaking things for individuals is insane. She's there from the beginning of practice to long after." Hamilton said, "Even when she is at home, I know she is constantly crunching numbers and figuring out things for future workouts."
Benson believes her time as an athlete is what has influenced her training style. Benson competed for the University of Kentucky in college and trained with national champions.
"I really know that there's not one workout that suits every athlete. When our program started I coached every athlete in grades seven through twelve, so right from the get go I had to tailor training cause I was coaching junior high athletes and high school seniors. I think early on it was just second nature and then as the numbers grew and I took over the high school program I thought I should continue to tailor training," Benson said. "I really try to learn the athletes and tweak every workout per athlete. If you try to force just one method some people just won't improve."
Halfhill believes that Benson unique personality also helps drive the team forward. She described Benson as "high energy" and "experienced."
"She's so passionate about the sport. Her belief in you, you can feel it, she gets so excited. When you have that person who sees something in you, that you might not even see in yourself, that can accomplish amazing things," Halfhill said.
Hamilton shares Halfhill's belief that Bensons personality allows her to bring the best out of her athletes.
"I feel very comfortable and like I can trust her, more than any other coach I've had, because she's so wise and experienced," Hamilton said.
Benson is eager for track season to start and is just glad that both her and her athletes are able to compete again.
"My number one goal is that we seize the opportunity we haven't had in two years. Just to get back to the intensity of competing." Benson said, "Let's just go out there and have that passion and light it up. Just get to back to some kind of normalcy where we step on the track and we mean business."