Top KC Current pick Elyse Bennett fills in for Lynn Williams

KC Current forward Elyse Bennett (No. 23) tries to track down the ball during Saturday's home game between Current and Racing Louisville at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

KC Current forward Elyse Bennett (No. 23) tries to track down the ball during Saturday’s home game between Current and Racing Louisville at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Especially for the star

A few years ago, a middle school student kicked the ball around at halftime of her brother’s soccer game in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

A coach approached the girl’s parents and asked which team she was playing for. The girl was Elyse Bennett, who would one day be drafted as the Kansas City Current’s top pick for the 2022 National Women’s Soccer League.

In fact, Bennett was not playing football at all at the time. She had never played on an organized team. As a child, she balanced many activities and sports — competitive cheerleading, basketball, volleyball, track and field — but not soccer.

Not then. Not yet.

“Elyse was always very determined about what she set out to do,” said Mindy Bennett, Elyse’s mother.

Elyse’s father, Edgar Bennett, played in the NFL for seven years and won a Super Bowl XXXI ring with the Green Bay Packers. (He is currently the wide receivers coach for the Las Vegas Raiders.)

Her brother also played several sports, but he excelled at football. And that was Elyse Bennett’s first encounter with the game. The two would soon become competitive in football as they were in virtually everything else.

“We played a lot of board games at our house,” her mother recalls, “and it was all high stakes.”

Today, Elyse Bennett credits this competitive atmosphere at home for fueling her drive and determination.

“The competitive nature of our household was something that ran through everyone,” she said. “My parents made sure I stayed humble and just put my head down and ground my entire journey.”

And what a drudgery it was.

Elyse Bennett was relatively late in soccer, but once she started playing, she was addicted to it. She joined a team at her brother’s game shortly after that halftime chat between her parents and the curious coach.

Usually girls and boys who want to play football in Division I have found their way to competitive teams at U-12 level. But by the time she started playing college football, Bennett had just over four years of playing experience.

“Every coach we spoke to was like, ‘Where? Where have you been?’” Mindy Bennett said. “A lot of girls already had names and reputations, and no one had any idea who Elyse was.”

When asked for a word to describe her playstyle, Elyse Bennett offers this: gritty.

“I think every single day I’m going to come out and fight and fight to win for my teammates and myself,” she said. “I feel like I come in with this competitive nature every day.”

She developed that courage through her competitive home life, but also through learning how to deal with adversity. She tore her cruciate ligament during her senior year of high school, which could have been devastating for someone who was already late on the recruiting scene.

During her second season at Washington State University, she tore her cruciate ligament again. But after her second injury, at least she knew what she was struggling with during the rehab process.

“Mentally it wasn’t easier,” she said. “But it was a little easier physically because I knew exactly what needed to be done to get where I was.”

Bennett played 93 games during her Washington State career, the second-highest in program history. She ranks sixth all-time there in goals and would become the seventh overall pick in the 2022 NWSL draft.

Bennett, who is now a professional soccer player, had little time to adjust to the professional game before being pushed into the starting lineup when Lynn Williams, a star player acquired from The Current last offseason, with a season-ending injury went down.

Certainly big shoes to fill. But she did it in four NWSL Challenge Cup games. Bennett recorded four assists in six games, including a scintillating run-and-pass that helped the Current capture the Central Division crown of the tournament.

She has all the physical requirements to succeed as a professional soccer striker. Big, fast and strong, she’s getting more and more comfortable on the ball.

It’s evident that this 22-year-old latecomer has only just begun to show what she’s capable of.

“Every year I see her play, she’s better than the year before,” her mother said. “I’m not sure she knows her upper limit yet.”

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