HAMMOND — For Hammond senior Kelsey Bennett, being part of the Red Devils girls soccer team wasn’t just spending afternoons kicking a ball around on a field. It was part of who she is.
Hammond soccer, and sports in general, have been part of Bennett’s family for years. She learned sports from her grandfather, Earl Dillon. Her mother, Katina Dillon, was a girls soccer player at Hammond and her uncle, Matt Dillon, was part of a Hammond boys basketball team that went to a state final four in the 1990s. Her first cousins, the Crosby sisters, have been part of Hammond’s success in recent years as well.
“(Hammond) is like my family, basically,” Bennett said. “We have one store, Dollar General, and every time I go in there my mom says hello to someone. Everywhere you go, it’s the same people.”
Bennett became a big name in the small town this fall, leading the girls soccer team to the state Class D final four, scoring 42 goals with 17 assists in the process. She is the Times All-North Northern Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player for 2019.
“She’s very loose with high energy, sometimes you have to rein her in,” Hammond coach Shawn Dack said. “She keeps things light with the girls, which is good. You don’t need to be stressed out about what’s ahead of you. She loves athletics and always has. It’s hard to believe she’s a senior.”
Not only did Bennett score a lot of goals this season, she came through in the clutch.
She scored the only two goals in the Section 10 Class D championship game against Edwards-Knox, and she also scored the goal that sent Hammond to the state final four in a 1-0 victory over Section 7’s Chazy in a state quarterfinal.
“We always stood behind her,” Dack said. “She was our leader. She was on a final four team as a freshman and scored a big goal in the regional against Chazy. This year we were led by the example she set. The combination of her and Avery (Kenyon) and even the younger kids. The whole team was exciting to be around. It was one of those teams where you want to keep playing.”
Hammond’s team is very close and the players, both in soccer and girls basketball season, gather at Bennett’s home for spaghetti dinners before games.
As the season progressed Bennett noticed how much of a following the team was developing both in and out of town.
“It means the world,” Bennett said. “I didn’t realize how many people follow Hammond sports, not even just people from Hammond, my friends from Harrisville and Morristown. It’s a good feeling. We are the same way with everyone else. When Harrisville boys won (state basketball last year) everyone supported them.”
Kenyon was a big part of Bennett’s season as well, finishing with 33 goals and 25 assists. It was rare for either player to score when the other one was not providing the assist.
“We did very well this year,” Bennett said. “I think this year was one of the closest years we’ve been. Last year we weren’t really as connected. We contributed a lot to each other (this year).”
Because has every grade of Hammond’s school is in the same building, Bennett has developed a fan base of elementary school kids as well. She joked that sometimes when they stop her to talk, she has to tell them she needs to leave or she’ll be late for class.
“It’s special, makes my heart warm,” Bennett said of her young fans. “I try to always be a person to look up to. If I were to get in trouble I wouldn’t want them to be disappointed in me.”
Bennett has already put the soccer balls away and is now focusing on the girls basketball season, but it will be a long time before she forgets, if she ever does at all, her senior year on the field.
“Those were special moments I’ll always cherish,” Bennett said. “We all expected each other to do so well and we did pull through in a lot of those games.”