Somewhere in the cosmos, it was decided Katie Benzan would play for Maryland.
She’d come to a fork in her life in November when Benzan had decided to cut her Harvard career off after three seasons. Benzan had two options, Texas and Maryland, and took a step down the Longhorns path to be closer to family. Her brother Patrick serves as a graduate assistant to the Texas men’s basketball program; attending the same school would be, Benzan mused, the first and last chance the siblings had to go to school together.
But the universe nudged Benzan back to the fork when the Longhorns parted ways with their women’s basketball coach Karen Aston on April 3. Now, Benzan is “taking life as it is and making lemonade,” as a graduate transfer who was one of two additions announced by Maryland on Wednesday.
Both Benzan and forward Chloe Bibby, who spent her last three years with nationally ranked Mississippi State, are eager help sustain the Terps’ place as the top team in the Big Ten Conference after the departure of three transfers and four seniors.
“Since the coaching change at Texas, it just changed the equation. I’d built such a close relationship with coach (Brenda) Frese and the team at Maryland that I just couldn’t say no again," Benzan said, "and I had to take up the opportunity to play again, at such a fantastic, competitive, winning program.”
As Benzan was in the midst of closing out her mythic senior season as the Nobles School in Dedham, Massachusetts, she’d truly believed her decision to go to Harvard would stick.
In her three seasons as Harvard’s starting point guard, Benzan smashed Crimson records, setting the single-season record for most 3-pointers as a freshman (85), which she’d then go on to snap with 99 triples as a sophomore and 103 as a junior, finishing with an all-time Harvard and Ivy-best of 287.
The three-time All-Ivy League First Team selection became the 20th player in program history to eclipse 1,000 points, which she did against Dartmouth in her junior season, and exited Harvard with 1,223 points for a 13.7 average. Benzan led in minutes, assists and points in all three seasons for Harvard and played in all 89 games, of which she started 87.
She opted to forgo her senior season and declared she’d spend her last season at Texas upon graduation. Then, her options changed.
“But everything happens for a reason. You have to make the most of what is given," Benzan said. "I have this one last year of eligibility and I really want to make the most of it, take advantage of it and have one great year.”
There’s no one goal that spurs Benzan, but she looks forward to helping pen the unwritten ending to Maryland’s story — its likely impending No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, its potential trips to the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and so on, its unbeaten streak that ended too soon with its fifth Big Ten title in six years.
“The Big Ten Conference is a little bit different than the Ivy League," Benzan said. "To play with such great players, I want to make sure I can challenge myself to play with them and help them succeed.”
The 5-foot-6 guard will be eligible to play immediately. Given Benzan’s past prowess beyond the arc, she’ll be expected to help bolster the 3-point shooting cavern that sophomore guard Taylor Mikesell leaves behind. Mikesell, who who set the program record for 3-pointers made by a freshman (95) and shot 42.5% from the 3-point range this season, entered the transfer portal on Thursday.
“I wish Taylor obviously the best and hope everything goes well with her," Benzan said. "Yes, I see myself serving as that role, but Taylor Mikesell has big shoes to fill, so I don’t know if I can totally fill them, but I’ll try like heck.”
That’s where Maryland’s second new addition, Bibby, might step into the other shoe. In her third season with Mississippi State, Bibby led the team with 38 3-pointers, netting plural treys in nine games. Her season high came in December, when Bibby shot five triples against South Florida.
Before suffering an ACL tear in her sophomore season, Bibby had been scoring in double figures in 14 games, collecting an average of 4.1 rebounds and 45% from the perimeter to coincide her 11.9 points per game.
“I feel that I’m a pretty versatile player, but I can definitely knock down a three,” Bibby said. “I know Katie can hit the three. We’ve got some pretty good weapons, and I’m just super excited to get there and learn the girls and how they play. I don’t think we’ll have any problems from the 3-point range, that’s for sure.”
Making a life-altering decision from halfway across the world carried some surrealism to Bibby. Surrounding her now are the trees, walls and streets just outside of Melbourne, Australia, where Bibby had returned home after the coronavirus pandemic closed schools and forced her away from Starkville.
Like Benzan, the departure of Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer motivated Bibby to find a chance for inspiration studying another another coach someplace else.
That’s what Bibby thinks she has found in Frese. Maryland was the first program to contact Bibby and after one phone conversation, Bibby was hooked.
“You can’t explain the feeling. It just felt right. I loved everything they had to say about their program and everything they had to say about what they had to accomplish,” Bibby said. “I was instantly super impressed when I got off the phone. Everything (Frese) has to offer with her experience and everything she’s done in her career is pretty phenomenal when you look at it.”
Maryland feels the same about Bibby.
“Chloe is another proven winner that will bring a ton of intangibles to our program. Her experience in the SEC and internationally will be invaluable to our young team," Frese said in a release. "At 6-foot-1, Chloe is a very versatile player that can play inside and out. She can shoot the three and will be another strong rebounder for us. Hailing all the way from Australia we are thrilled to welcome Chloe and her family into our Maryland family. The future is so bright.”