BASKING RIDGE, NJ -- The youngest of five brothers and sisters with athletic backgrounds, Sophie Beneventine has been exposed to sports her entire life.
That's probably part of the reason why she adapted so quickly to the varsity level when she was thrust right into the Ridge girls basketball team's starting lineup in her first game as a freshman three years ago.
Now, Beneventine is a savvy veteran, a skilled and seasoned point guard who is the on-court leader of a Ridge team that has very lofty goals for the season that just began last week.
"All my brothers and sisters played sports," Beneventine said. "My oldest brother played lacrosse, another brother played football at West Point, my sister Victoria basketball at Montclair State and my brother Kevin also played football."
Her sister Victoria, a 2012 Ridge graduate, played forward at Ridge and then switched to the backcourt when she played at Montclair State University.
"Victoria had a tremendous effect on me," Sophie said. "I found the AAU program I've been part of because of my sister. That took me very far. My dad has always been a basketball person; me and Vic always connected with him on that. I was always there watching there and she would be teaching me certain things. She has helped me grow more than anybody else that has been in my basketball life."
To watch the way Sophie Beneventine operates on the court--directing the offense, knowing just when to accelerate and when to ease off the gas pedal, when to shoot and when to pass up the shot and seek out an open teammate--it would be easy to classify her as a basketball lifer.
Beneventine recently signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Boston University. She was strongly considering West Point, too.
"During my sophomore year Boston U. started recruiting me, but by my third unofficial visit my junior year--which was Marisa Moseley's first season coaching and she got coach of the year--it came down to West Point and BU. I loved both of the schools. I can't compare any other school to what they were offering me. My brother played football at West Point, and I grew up going there often. I actually had military aspirations as well, that never scared me, but at end of the day, I think I looked more for my future. It was not 100 percent in my head, especially with BU right there. Boston U. just had so much to offer, and I am excited to get up there next year."
"Soph is a great player," said Ridge girls basketball head coach Eric Schroeder. "The entire program is extremely proud of her commitment to BU. Soph's growth over the past three seasons is clear on the court and we are looking forward to her success at BU."
This season, though, is one Beneventine hopes will be the culmination of a four-year high school basketball journey that has seen Ridge's record improve in each season she has been in the program.
"Looking back at my freshman year, my ability, my leadership, how outspoken I am, I have changed a lot between then and this year," Beneventine said. "The program has gotten better every year I have started, Taylor Smith (senior guard who transferred from Kinnelon last year) coming in helped me tremendously, and (senior guard) Ava Haiback has always there with me."
It can be an intimidating experience, even for a talented young athlete, to get a baptism of fire on a varsity team as a freshman.
"My first game starting against Hunterdon Central as a freshman, Ava and I were both very nervous, we didn't know what to expect," Beneventine recalled. "But after that, I just took in the role. I was so used to it playing for many years in travel and AAU, it just started to click. As selfless as I am, as a player that knows what I can do, I do believe this is a team sport, and I never believe in one person doing all the work. I feel we are at our best when everybody's happy and we are much stronger as a team when every single girl comes into the game and has an effect on it. I never believe one player should dominate the team dynamic."
So Beneventine, who averaged a shade under 10 points last year, might have games where she only attempts a handful of shots, but approaches double digits in assists or rebounds. Over time, she has learned to assert herself even with older teammates.
"Coming into my freshman year, I was scared to say a couple of things, but then the girls started to respect me and see that I know what I am doing, then they would follow what I was doing and they trusted me with the ball," she said. "The last (two) years, I had way more of a leadership role on the court. Freshman year, it took somewhat into the season before I did. But I don't think I was ever completely shut down and out of place, even as a freshman."
Last season, Ridge had a 20-9 record. Three of those losses came at the hands of nationally ranked Franklin (34-0), the eventual state Tournament of Champions winner. But in the Somerset County Tournament semifinals, Ridge gave Franklin as tough a game as any team in the state did all season before losing, 61-55. Beneventine had 18 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and three steals in that game. Now, Ridge hopes to build on what was established that night last February and reach the heights Franklin achieved last year.
"We're the best we've ever been going into a season," Beneventine said. "We have high expectations and we don't want to let ourselves down. We have all the tools to try to get to the T of C this year, and we need to utilize them this season. Everybody in the community is seeing what we had done last year. The Franklin game was huge, all my friends were calling and texting me about it."
Ridge, which is 2-0 to start this season, will host its own holiday tournament beginning on Friday. The Red Devils will play Edison at 7 p.m. Friday in the first round.