The Richmond Register

Sports

May 3, 2014

H.S. TENNIS: A dream come true for Model’s Benson

RICHMOND — Gus Benson had scholarship offers from several schools, but he always knew in his heart where he wanted to play tennis at the next level.

So, when he was given an opportunity to join the University of Kentucky’s program, the Model Laboratory senior couldn’t have been happier.

“Once they offered me a spot, I decided that’s where I wanted to go. This has been my dream since I was (a kid).”

Benson was drawing interest from UNC-Willimington, Samford, Western Kentucky and East Tennessee State, among other schools.

He was only offered a walk-on spot at Kentucky, but he will join a recruiting class that is currently ranked as the third-best in the country.

Heading into next week’s NCAA Tournament, the UK tennis team is ranked No. 12 in the country. The Wildcats have advanced to four-straight NCAA Sweet 16s.

“I really see him making an impact,” Model coach Ric Hernandez said of Benson. “I see him making that lineup. I look for him to have plenty of wins in the SEC.”

Benson joined the Model tennis team in the fifth grade and he’s been making a big-time impact for the Patriots ever since. He won a match at the regional tournament that first season (2007) and a couple of years later he decided to focus full-time on tennis.

He stopped playing basketball and soccer and became heavily involved in USTA and other junior events across the state and the region.

“He’s forgone any other sport here at Model so he can focus on his craft, which is tennis,” Hernandez said. “He doesn’t put a racket down year-round. That makes him stand out from other players who just think of tennis as a spring sport. For Gus, its not a spring sport. It’s a life-long, year-round passion.”

That dedication he certainly paid off for Benson.

The senior has shown steady and impressive progress each year, advancing further in the regional and state tournament every season.

Last year, he claimed his first-ever 11th Region singles championship. Benson also made it to the quarterfinals at state after falling in the round of 16 in 2011 and 2012.

He will be the No. 1 seed when the 11th Region Tournament starts Monday in Lexington.

“He doesn’t just try to out-hit an opponent anymore,” Hernandez said. “He really considers his shot-making and really thinks logically on the court. He really uses strategy, where as he used to just try to overpower people.”

Benson has also posted very impressive results in regional events.

He currently ranked 47th in the USTA’s Southern B18 rankings. Last fall he advanced to the singles final at the Georgia State Junior Open and also made it the doubles final at the Southern Sectional Designated Tournament in Mobile, Ala.

The past three years, Benson represented Kentucky at the USTA Southern Junior Cup and last summer he competed in his first pro level tournament — an ITF qualifying event where he beat a player ranked 904th  in the world.

Benson’s success on the high school and regional level definitely caught the attention of the UK coaching staff. He was offered the walk-on spot by them last fall.

The Model senior knows it won’t be easy for him to crack the lineup at Kentucky, especially right away, but he’s determined to work hard and continue to improve.

“They are losing a lot of seniors, but they are getting a lot of good freshmen,” Benson said of Kentucky. “So, it will be tough. It’s a possibility that I won’t play for the first two years. But, the coaches are very optimistic and they think (I can contribute).”

For now, Benson still has some things he’d like to accomplish at Model.

If he can put together a good showing at the 11th Region Tournament, the senior will be one of the favorites to win the state singles titles. He will likely be one of the top three seeds.

“If he plays well, I think he can bring home that title,” Hernandez said.

Benson would also like to cap his high school career with another title. If the Patriots win the 11th Region title, they will get the chance to compete in the state team tennis tournament.

Model advanced to the semifinals of the team state tournament in 2011, Benson’s freshman season.

“There’s a lot of tennis left to be played,” Benson said.

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