Cleats in the family: UB soccer captain looks to follow in her father's footsteps
Julia Benati is a commander on the field with a love for the sport
Julia Benati found her first love at four years old.
For Benati, soccer isn’t just a sport; it’s her life. From the moment she saw her father, Rob Benati, put his foot to a soccer ball, she was hooked. She attended all his games and soaked up as much information as she could to fuel her passion.
Now the roles are reversed.
The Benati family is from Dorchester, Ontario - a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Buffalo - but her father and mother, Kari Benati, rarely miss a game.
Benati is a senior co-captain and midfielder, a commander on the field with an impressive mental awareness.
“She has such a composure over the game. She can literally dictate the pace of play and she allows us to do so many things,” said head coach Shawn Burke. “She is an extension of the coaching staff, where she can make decisions with set pieces… there is so much trust and faith in her [as] a player.”
All of the training Benati and her father put in together has translated into her play. As a freshman, Benati was an important part of UB history. She was on the first ever women’s soccer team to reach the NCAA tournament, a place the Bulls have not returned to since.
“We have put more responsibility on her to really lead and carry this group,” Burke said. “Her play is really going to determine the status of this season. She is the type of player that can carry that kind of weight.”
Achieving a taste of success early and not reaching that point again could deteriorate some athletes’ drives to win. Benati, however, has dedicated her life to soccer, and her passion bleeds into her team as well.
“I think Julia is a one-of-a-kind type of player,” said junior co-captain and forward Carissima Cutrona. “Her attitude really helps our team. [She] always seems to be one step ahead of her opponent, her footwork is amazing, she is very crafty and creative on the ball.”
Her attitude toward soccer shows in the classroom as well. Majoring in exercise science, having the discipline to be a student and an athlete in a demanding course curriculum can be taxing. With frequently missed classes during season and weekly tests, time management is crucial.
“She is wired differently. Julia just has a pure love for the game,” Burke said. “Everything she does on the soccer field… all the work in the summer when nobody is looking… it is out of pure love and enjoyment. It is not work to her and I think that carries over, she has that same drive and determination in the classroom.”
Yet, for Benati, something else drives her. She and her father share another passion beyond the field of soccer that drives her to achieve more than the average student athlete.
Idolizing how often her father could be around and support his family, she made the decision to follow in his footsteps academically as well.
“I want to be a chiropractor and that’s from growing up with my dad as a chiropractor,” Benati said. “I really do look up to my dad. I really appreciated how much time he’s always been able to spend with me growing up. Seeing the good work hours, especially being a girl, I thought it was a good fit for me.”
Benati’s academic goals will be placed on hold for the immediate future. Her senior year marks the end to a decorated collegiate career when the season ends. Despite this being Benati’s last year playing for the Bulls, she has the desire to achieve more on the pitch.
“I don’t think I can get away from the sport, honestly,” Benati said. “I’m planning on trying to go to Europe after and maybe play professionally for a little bit before I come back and continue my education.”
If all goes as planned, Benati hopes to play in Italy, following her family heritage. It would mean a great deal to her and those who support her.
Before taking the leap to the professional level, Benati will have to work on parts of her game. Professional soccer overseas is a tremendous step above competing at the college level. But beyond her family support, she also has her coach in her corner.
“She has the drive,” Burke said. “At that level, she knows some of her short comings that still need to improve. I think a huge part of trying to take that jump is a mentality, [and] she has it.”
For now, Benati is only looking to help take the Bulls to their second NCAA appearance, doing anything she can to help take the team to the next level. By doing so, Benati will be setting a standard for future UB athletes, including her sister, Nicole Benati, who will be attending next fall.
“I think it is just inspiring everyone to want it so bad we die for each other out on the field,” Benati said.
Jeremy Torres is an assistant sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com