by Lisa Krikava
Excellence (ek-se-lens) n.: The quality or state of excelling: superiority.
What the Webster's Dictionary doesn't have, but should, is a picture of Melissa Bennett. Not only has the UW senior forward spent the last four years striving for excellence, she has come to epitomize the very meaning of the word.
Last week, Bennett played her final game at Washington, bringing to an end one of the finest careers in UW soccer history. Last season, Bennett ranked second nationally with 18 assists - six more than any Husky previously and has totaled 29 assists for her career to blow past the Washington career record of 27.
Breaking records, though, is old hat to Bennett. During a prolific prep career at Seattle Christian High School, Bennett totaled 166 goals, including 50 as a senior, to break the Washington state prep record of 152 set just three years prior by another Bennett - older sister Tami, now an assistant coach at UW.
It would be easy to assume that it was Tami who piqued her younger sister's interest in the game; however, the reverse is true.
"I actually got my whole family interested in soccer," Melissa recalls. "In my kindergarten class, there were a bunch of kids that started a team together. We ended up being good and I liked it, so I kept playing. My sisters started watching me practice and they thought it looked like fun, so they started to play too."
One Bennett is frightening enough for UW opponents, but having two on the field at the same time can be deadly.
"We have always been very supportive of each other," the younger Bennett says. "My sister is my biggest role model. Being able to watch her during her senior year and see what she did for herself and the team was incredible and very inspiring. Even when we were playing with each other, Tami and I never competed against one another. It was always a wonderful experience, being able to play with my sister."
Their spirit of co-operation is evident in one simple fact: no Husky has ever had more assists than Melissa Bennett, nor has any UW player ever scored more goals than Tami.
True to her nature, Bennett refuses to take sole credit for her records, choosing instead to give an assist to her teammates.
"It's a funny thing about soccer records," she says. "They only go to one person, but it takes more people then that to be able to make them happen. I am surrounded by great people. Most of what I do isn't that great, but my team is able to finish. I can't do all these things alone. Seeing the team succeed and do well is really the most important thing for me."
Such comments are fit for a leader, a role Bennett has filled well this season as team captain.
"I try to set a good example by communicating well and organizing things," she says. "The senior class has really stepped up, though, and everyone has been a great leader. We are leading the team together and I think that is why we are successful."
Bennett and her fellow seniors made it their goal to improve upon the team's 9-8-3 finish of a year ago, when the Huskies missed the NCAA Tournament for just the third time in the last nine years.
"Now that I am a senior, I am just trying to put it all out there, so I have no regrets," she says. "I am determined to see our team succeed."
On Nov. 14, when the buzzer sounded at the end of the Huskies' 2-1 loss to Nebraska in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, a remarkable career came to an end. With it came the end of the Bennett Era, a seven-year run of offensive superiority unparalleled in UW history. Bennett, though, would prefer to be remembered not for her records, but for her drive.
"I would like to be remembered for the heart that I have shown," she says. "Someone who showed up to play every day. I want to be remembered as a team player."
There is no doubt that Bennett will be remembered for so much more than that.