Jill Bennett knew her freshman season at Cornell University had plenty of positives to build on.
The St. Ignatius graduate helped the Big Red to a strong season, finishing second on the team in kills.
However, for Bennett, the true marker of a successful season did not come on the volleyball court. Instead, it happened in the weight room in spring workouts.
Bennett broke the previous Cornell team record (200 pounds) with a power clean lift of 205 pounds, putting her on the program’s Wall of Honor.
“I hadn’t really lifted before getting to Cornell. It wasn’t my strong suit,” Bennett said. “They taught me the techniques and just how to build strength and be stronger. When I broke the record, it felt like a big moment, that feeling of ‘Yeah, I’m supposed to be here.’”
A four-year varsity player for St. Ignatius, Bennett made a splash in her first season in the Ivy League. She piled up 173 kills and 46 blocks for the Big Red (14-10, 9-5).
For the 5’10” right side hitter, it wasn’t the physical aspect of the game that proved to be the biggest hurdle in her freshman season.
“There are some big hitters out there. Everyone is good,” Bennett said. “It was more mental than physical play to take things on at this level. You have to rely on your training.”
With a 9-5 record in Ivy League play, Cornell finished third in the standings. Its 9 victories in the league were the most for the Big Red since 2008.
Bennett (Beverly, St. Barnabas) was there through all the ups and downs, traveling with the team on the road and playing in 22 of 24 matches.
Always able to deliver a huge, momentum-turning kill, Bennett has now learned to pick the right time to rare back with a big swing as she continued to perfect her mental game.
“In practice, you’re swinging balls at teammates who know you well,” Bennett said. “That might not work against Yale or Harvard. You learn you might not get this kill now, but maybe later it works. It’s the end game. You’re thinking ahead more. That’s the changed mindset in college.”
For her standout freshman season, Bennett was named All-Ivy League Second Team for the Big Red.
Adjusting to playing at the collegiate level, Bennett had a heck of a sounding board in her sister, Gabby, a junior middle blocker at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
With both sisters on the East Coast, the Bennetts spent Thanksgiving together in New York City in 2018.
“It was a cool breather moment. It felt like we were at home,” Jill said. “We talked all the time during the year about everything, school, classes, social stuff, volleyball. It was a lot of fun.”
In her four-year career at St. Ignatius, Bennett piled up 812 kills, good for second in program history. While deciding on Cornell to continue her academic-athletic career, she also considered Penn and Colgate.
As well as adjusting to the speed of the collegiate game, the Ivy League curriculum kept Bennett on her toes throughout her first year.
“The academics were a challenge. In the season, you’re traveling, so you do your work,” Bennett said. “It’s all about time management, so you can finish the season and the year strong.”
With one season in the books, Bennett and a strong returning core are looking to take another step forward this fall. The team returns five of its top six hitters as well as its starting setter, libero and two top blockers.
Cornell last won the Ivy League championship in 2006, the last title of a three-peat starting in 2004.
“We’re returning almost all our players,” Bennett said. “We have a strong core and with freshmen coming in. I hope I can get a postseason award, go First Team Ivy League, but the most important thing, the team goal, is to get an Ivy League banner up in the rafters.”