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Taking her best shot
In her sophomore season on the Monroe High School girls basketball team, Emily Benzschawel is a starter and the teams second-leading scorer. She averages 11.9 points and 5.4 rebounds a game. (Times photos: Marissa Weiher)
MONROE - Whether swishing jump shots or maneuvering through dribbling drills as a first-grader, Emily Benzschawel was always one of the tallest players on the court in the Dribbling Dinosaurs basketball program through the Green County YMCA.

Jump ahead nine years and Benzschawel is no longer the tallest player on the court for the Monroe girls basketball team, but she made an impact from the first day of high school one and a half years ago. She is a starter and the second-leading scorer for the Cheesemakers this season.

Benzschawel, a sophomore, has taken on more of a scoring role this season. She is averaging 11.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. She's second on the team in free-throw percentage (70.8 percent) and third on the team in 3-pointers made (11).

"Every year is a little different," Monroe coach Sam Mathiason said. "Last year, her role was to come off the bench. We knew coming off the bench she could be a good scorer. She is a scorer by nature. She's very good with her hands on the basketball. She can find ways to score. She has a unique knack to maneuver into the lane and get her shot up. Part of that is confidence and growth. Just like with any player, the more experience you get the more confidence you have."

Benzschawel has been a natural athlete in many of the sports she has participated in, including soccer and swimming. After breaking her collarbone last spring while playing soccer, she didn't hesitate to get back on the basketball court. She returned and played several tournaments to close out the summer. She opted not to go out for volleyball so she could be ready for her body to take the toll on the hardwood.

"It was a difficult comeback," she said of the broken collarbone. "I have good teammates and my dad to support me. I felt like I needed more time to get in the weight room and get stronger before basketball season. When I came back, I felt better than ever."

She has taken on more responsibility as a ballhandler and at times serves as the point guard when sophomore Sydney Hilliard is on the bench getting a break.

"When Sydney Hilliard is not in there Emily is the one we want handling the ball," Mathiason said. "If teams are going to pressure us, I have the confidence that she will do a good job handling the ball."

Benzschawel said the team came into the season with the goal to win the Badger South Conference championship.

"Going into the season we knew we would have a pretty decent team," she said. "After we beat Edgewood and Stoughton we knew we could be a really good team."

Her father, Eric, played football at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her mother, Michelle, is a physical education teacher at Monroe Middle School. Eric served as Emily's youth basketball coach from Dribbling Dinosaurs through her time on a traveling team in middle school. He played a vital role in her development as a player and still critiques her performance after every game.

The most important advice Eric gave to her was "to practice like you play," she said. "Working hard through the practices will make the games easier. He always calls me out on my mistakes. It helps me to be a better player."

Emily played on a Wisconsin Academy national basketball team in the summer with Hilliard and Stoughton sophomores Emma Kissling and Peighton Trieloff. She worked to become a better shooter.

"I wanted to become an all-around player," Benzschawel said. "I tried to get in the gym as much as I could."

The path is set for Monroe (17-2), a No. 2 seed in the sectional, to possibly get a rematch with Stoughton in a sectional semifinal game March 2 at Sun Prairie High School. But Benzschawel is not looking too far ahead. She understands the Cheesemakers, ranked seventh in the Associated Press Division 2 state poll, must first beat the winner of Portage and Oregon in a regional semifinal game Feb. 24 and then win a regional championship game Feb. 25 before they get a chance to see Stoughton again.

"I don't think there is any pressure being the No. 2 seed," she said. "If we can play like we can we will do well in the tournament. Our big challenge will be Stoughton. There's always that rivalry."

When she's not playing basketball or working on homework, Benzschawel said her hobbies are hanging out with friends and watching movies on Netflix.

"I'll scroll through Netflix and watch any one that catches my eye," she said.

Benzschawel has received a couple of interest letters from some schools about playing basketball in college.

"It's always been a dream of mine to play basketball at the next level," she said.

First things first. She and her Monroe teammates will have one more chance to play a regular-season game tonight at Madison Edgewood. With a win, the Cheesemakers will claim the Badger South Conference championship outright. If the Crusaders beat Monroe, there could be a three-way tie for the conference title with Edgewood and Stoughton.

"It's important to have it all ours instead of sharing it with Stoughton," Benzschawel said.