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Katie Benzan became the first Dominican player in the WNBA because of how hard she worked

Benzan earned a spot in the WNBA through hard work and a relentless drive.

Dallas Wings v Washington Mystics Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

While her time with the Washington Mystics is on hold, Katie Benzan’s rise from an eighth-grader on the varsity team to an undrafted guard who earned a training camp contract was no accident. The former University of Maryland standout reached the highest level because of her relentless motor and an unmatched work ethic.

As a kid, Katie Benzan would spend time at the high school practices her mother, Kim, coached. Even when she was in elementary school, Kim knew that her daughter had the desire and drive to be great.

“And that consistency is like building a house brick on top of brick on top of brick,” Kim Benzan said of how her daughter trained. “It might take you five years to build your house, but at some point, you’re gonna have a house, and that’s what I would attribute her success to — just being consistent and putting in the work every single day.”

Whether waking up early to get shots up before school or practicing in the driveway during winter in the Boston suburb of Wellesley, Massachusetts, Katie Benzan outworked everyone else in the gym to become the first Dominican player in the WNBA.

After a two-year career at Maryland that saw her lead the country in 3-point shooting and set the program record for career 3-point percentage, Katie Benzan went undrafted this April. But when Washington’s second-round pick, Christyn Williams, injured her knee during training camp and was ruled out for the season, the former Terrapin got the call.

And while Katie Benzan’s time in the WNBA is not guaranteed, her high school head coach Alex Gallagher knows that his former star guard will continue to prove people wrong.

“I’ve watched Katie for over 10 years where everybody says, ‘well, she’s finally hit her ceiling,’ and she never hits the ceiling,” Gallagher said. “The only reason she continues to break through those ceilings is because of how hard she works.”

With Mystics coaching personnel attending Maryland games this season, head coach Mike Thibault, who has a penchant for utilizing unorthodox players, saw how to maximize Katie Benzan’s strengths.

Through three games with the 2019 WNBA Champions, Katie Benzan played 27 minutes, scored 18 points, had two rebounds, one assist, one block and went 5-for-7 from three.

Even though her numbers don’t jump off the page, dozens of players in each draft class get waived before setting foot on a WNBA court. To get to the point where she traveled with the team to Minnesota and played in front of the Washington faithful at Entertainment & Sports Arena, Katie Benzan had to outwork her competition.

“She’s had to work herself to a point where she is better than everybody at a certain number of things that allow her to be able to play at the rate that she plays that,” Gallagher said.

Her shooting numbers are most prominent from her three games in the W, but the rebounds, assist and block illustrate the little-celebrated part of Katie Benzan’s game. Even at 5-foot-6, Katie Benzan gets in scrums and relishes the less-glamorous part of the game.

“I don’t know if I know anybody who’s more mentally tougher than her,” said her father, John Benzan. “She is also physically tough. She gets knocked down a lot. She sticks her nose on defense, in places where, as her father, I’m thinking, ‘can you get out of there, let some big girl get in there and rebound?’ You’ve seen her rip the ball out of people’s hands like they stole her baby.”

At Maryland, Benzan scored the ball, set up her teammates and even played taller defense than her frame suggested. And while her biggest impression over three games came from shooting the ball from behind the arc, Katie Benzan has relied on hard work to go from a seven-year-old kid cheering on her mom’s varsity team to an undersized guard competing with future Hall of Famers.

“I’d rather depend on my hard work,” Benzan said about what she uses to elevate her game. “You know, I know that I’ve put in all the reps, so I get my confidence from knowing I worked to get here.”