KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BVM) – On Dec. 18 the 2022 NWSL Draft got underway and with the seventh pick in the draft, the Kansas City Current selected Elyse Bennett from Washington State University.
“I had an idea,” Bennett said. “I was in talks with a couple of teams throughout the draft process, just leading up to it but you just never know what is going to happen on the actual draft day. I wasn’t 100% sure on where I was going to land but I had a pretty good idea so I was excited when my name got called and I was going to Kansas City.”
Celebrating the amazing news with her parents, brother and grandmother, Bennett had made a dream come true and one that was not always guaranteed. The path to the NWSL was not an easy one. On more than one occasion Bennett could have called it a career and headed down a different path.
“I think that my soccer career has always been a whirlwind,” Bennett said.
As recently as the fall of 2020, Bennett had thought about hanging up her cleats for good. Her senior year of soccer for the Cougars had been canceled due to the pandemic and that left Bennett with a huge decision to make.
“I was going through so many emotions when we realized we weren’t going to be able to play our fall season my senior year,” Bennett said. “I feel like that’s when I kind of sat down with myself and just really thought about whether I was ready to hang up the cleats.”
She was going to graduate and had already started to apply for grad school to become a physician assistant. Professional soccer wasn’t even a thought in her head as Bennett began to take the initial steps toward life after soccer.
“I wasn’t really considering playing professionally until I had decided not to go to grad school… I was applying to physician assistant school and that was kind of my plan,” Bennett said. “Then I went through the interview process and realized it kind of wasn’t what I wanted to do. It just wasn’t seeming like the right path for me to go down anymore.”
Bennett opted to come back for her fifth year at Washington State and had arguably her best season ever for the Cougars. She scored 10 goals and had four assists while leading Washington State in total points with 24. Bennett was named a Second Team All-American by the United Soccer Coaches and received First Team All-Pac-12 honors as well.
Bennett had put more of a focus on strength training entering her fifth year, which led to her feeling stronger on the ball and gave her more confidence. Along with her years of experience, it allowed Bennett to lead Washington State to a 14-3-4 record and a win in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“I think that had I not come back for my fifth year, I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now and I think that everything just happens for a reason,” Bennett said.
That season reminded Bennett of her love for the game. The team meshed well together, they enjoyed each other’s company and Bennett was dominating out on the field.
“I realized I didn’t want to give it up yet,” Bennett said.
However, even before her big decision to continue her career, about six years earlier she had made another big decision to start playing soccer in the first place. Growing up in an athletic family, she and her brother played practically every sport. When she got to high school Bennett had whittled down her sports participation to just track and soccer.
Bennett chose to focus on soccer in part because she enjoyed the team aspect of the sport and from there she began to work towards her goal of playing a sport in college.
“My end goal was to play a sport for college,” Bennett said.
Bennett even began playing for a soccer club two hours away in Milwaukee so that she could get the exposure she needed as well as play at a level that would allow her to reach her goal.
“I’ve always been super hard working and always had to fight for what I wanted,” Bennett said. “I realized that if I wanted to play in college I was going to have to become a better player and I was going to have to go through some hoops to catch up to players that had been playing for seven to eight years longer than I had.”
Bennett even had to overcome a torn ACL during her senior year of high school. It was her first time dealing with a season-ending injury and it wouldn’t be her last time either. That’s why it was vital to her career that she learned how to bounce back from injuries like that and she credits her father for helping her get through it.
“He had undergone injuries throughout his career and I was just super down when I got injured,” Bennett said. “I had never really experienced an injury that took me out of the game for so long but my dad had and he reminded me of that and just told me that everything was going to be OK as long as I continued to put the same effort into my rehab as I did my training. That’s the mindset and the motto that I went through both of my injuries with.”
Edgar Bennett had suffered season ending injuries during his football career both at Florida State and in the NFL. His advice to his daughter made all the difference during that first ACL tear and set Elyse up to successfully get through her second ACL tear during her sophomore year of college.
Elyse’s parents also passed on the work ethic that allowed Elyse to catch up to her peers and master the position that gave her the opportunity to play collegiately and professionally.
“I can’t remember playing any other position aside from forward,” Elyse said. “It’s kind of what I’ve always been and hopefully what I’ll always be. I’m open to playing whatever position they need me. I have a feeling it’ll be forward, though.”
Considering that Kansas City was last in the league in goals scored last year, there is little doubt that the Current want her to continue doing what she does best. It’s why they drafted her and the good news for Kansas City is that the best is yet to come.
“I haven’t even hit my ceiling and I’m just excited to learn from these coaches and the players around me and take my game into the next level,” Bennett
It will be the next step in a journey that has seen Elyse overcome obstacles and forks in the road. A journey that has given her the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. From De Pere to Milwaukee to Pullman and now Kansas City, Elyse has done it her way.
“It was a journey to get here but I’m here,” Elyse said.