24 Dec Faulkner Falcons’ Benafield ‘leaves it all on the court’
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For the past three years, Paige Benafield has been a productive contributor for the Faulkner County Falcons, but this year, as a senior, she’s being pushed to do more. It’s a challenge she has willingly accepted.
“We have several new players this year and a few younger players that have moved up to varsity this year,” Benafield said. “We’ve had to learn to play as a team. It took a lot of practice, but in the last few games, we’ve really come together as a team. We can depend on each other, through injuries, sickness or whatever comes along. My takeaway so far is that if we stick together, we’re pretty tough to beat.”
Benafield has learned and felt the team’s dependability firsthand as she has been battling an injury early in the season.
“I injured my knee in the third game of the season,” Benafield said. “I haven’t been able to play my best since then, but it should be much better in January. I don’t like sitting on the bench, but I’m still cheering my team on.
“I’m a very quiet and shy person, and I prefer not to be the center of attention. I’ve had to push myself to be more open and take more chances in all areas of my life.”
Benafield, a senior guard for the Faulkner County Falcons, was selected to this year’s 501 Basketball Team — 41 players representing the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the court. The team is sponsored by Conway Regional Health System, First Security Bank and Conway Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Center. The senior was nominated by her head coach, Michael Corder.
“Paige has a tenacity on the defensive end of the court unlike no other,” Corder wrote in his nomination. “She has been our best defensive player over the last three years, and I expect that again this year. The hustle she shows on the defensive end of the floor is definitely a key for us. We need that from her; it really fires the other girls up.
“Paige has always been a good shooter, but this year, with our leading scorer graduated, we will need her to look to shoot the ball. Her outside touch is something that will be a key to the success of our season. I have all the confidence in the world in her, I just need her to shoot the ball more than ever before. I know her defense will be as good as ever. I’m just looking for her to be more aggressive on the offensive end this year.”
Benafield has been named to the homeschool all-state tournament team in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and she was named to the National Christian HomeSchool Championships all-tournament team in 2018 and 2019.
“The main reason I’ve been so successful on the Falcons is that my coach and assistant coach, Michael and Amy Corder, push me to give my all because they believe in me,” Benafield said. “Our team is like a family. We push each other to be our best, we pray together, and we love each other.”
As important as Benafield has been on the court for the Falcons, her presence and comradery off the court with her teammates has been equally valuable.
“Paige is very soft spoken,” Corder said. “She is a kind spirit. She is really good to send a simple text letting you know she is thinking about you or seems to have the right timing to send a good ‘pick you up’ text as well. She’s just a really good kid — one that coaches love to have around.
“Paige is one of those teammates that you love to have. She is worried more about the team success than her own. She is a very unselfish player, sometimes too unselfish. She loves her team and is always supportive.”
Benafield and the Falcons are focused on closing out regular season play as they prepare for the state homeschool tournament, before getting ready for the national tournament in March in Springfield, Mo.
“My personal goal this year is to win the state homeschool title,” Benafield said. “We’ve gotten close a couple of times, but we want to win it all this year. For our team, I want us to continue playing as one unit and for us all to keep a positive attitude. I also hope we continue to support each other on and off the court.
“Some of my best memories are from our state tournament and going to the national tournament. The boys and girls teams all go to each other’s games to cheer each other on. We have a lot of team spirit. We dress up in silly animal onesies, we beat drums and basically just have a great time together.”
Every May, Benafield volunteers at the Arkansas Special Olympics tournament in Searcy. She’s also volunteered with Upward basketball in Faulkner County. This fall, she will attend the University of the Ozarks.
“Paige will be missed next year,” Corder said. “She has been a fun one to coach, and I have really appreciated her hustle and determination over her career. She definitely leaves it all on the court.”
The Faulkner County Falcons return to action at Christian Ministries Academy at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 7.