Central Community College-Columbus will be bringing in a new sport for the 2019-2020 athletic season when the Raiders field their first-ever women's soccer team.
With such a big responsibility, Central needed to find a coach that could fill the role. As a result, officials chose to stay local and hired former Columbus High School boys and girls head coach and former Central men's assistant coach Jamie Bennett.
Bennett took the Columbus High boys soccer team to the state tournament four out of his five years, including one state finals appearance, and the girls team qualified for state one of his two years. He was an assistant for the boys team last year when current head coach Hawken Hanna took the helm.
Prior to Hanna being named head coach, Bennett was on a hiatus from coaching.
"There was a break," Bennett said. "My nephew was the men's coach here four years ago. I helped him for one year. After he left, I decided to get out of it and then when Hawken came here ... we talked I thought it would be a good opportunity to get back into it and help out."
Although Bennett said he enjoyed helping with the men's team, it was difficult to balance coaching duties with his full-time job.
Once he learned that the long-anticipated women's team was finally being introduced for the 2019 season, he said he wanted to put himself in position to land the full-time coaching gig.
"When I was helping the men, it was great, it was fun, but it was difficult with my work," Bennett said. "With the women's job being a full-time position up here along with other duties at the college. What better way to spend your day than being able to coach and do what you love to do?
"Once I got up here and realized how much fun I was having and how good of an opportunity it would be, I jumped on it and tried to do everything I could to put myself in position for that."
Bennett has jumped right into the deep and already has a roster of 22 players.
With Bennett being hired deep in the recruiting period he had to get started right away.
Given the 22-woman roster, Bennett said he is content with his current squad.
"I'm pretty sure I'm full," he said. "If that unicorn, that special player comes along and is interested we could certainly try to find room for her. Right now we're at 22, which I'm really happy about.
"Girls sports tend to commit earlier than the guys do. When I was hired I talked to a lot of my contacts and people I knew and a lot of them had already committed. We just kept turning over stones and looking for more players and some have played for me in the past so that relationship helped out. I'm really happy with the number of girls we have this year. "
While there is a lot of excitement around the new program, Bennett said there will be quite a few challenges that he and his team know.
The first is competing with teams that have established programs, while they'll be finding their identity in the first year. Another hurdle the Raiders will have to overcome is competing against NJCAA Division I programs as a Division II team.
"It's going to be tough," Bennett said. "Our biggest challenge is we're a Division II junior college and the 10 other teams in our region are Division I junior colleges. They have a little more finical scholarships to offer than we do. It's going to be tough, but all the recruits I've talked to, we talked about the challenge."
Bennett said that his team is enthusiastic about facing the Division I programs.
"They're all excited about it and are ready to put the work in," he said. "Even though we may be punching above out belt a bit I think we're going to have a good opportunity to make the top eight out of the region, which would qualify us for the regional tournament, which is of our goal this year."
Another important aspect for the team is its local touch. A majority of the team played high school soccer right in the area.
"I think it's important to know that half the team went to high school within 20 miles of here," Bennett said. "I'm really a big believer in the community college and getting the local players. All but three of the players are from Nebraska. I'm excited that we're starting this program with Nebraska players. I think they're going to work hard. With them being close hopefully they can get the community involved in the program and get the support behind us that way."
Not only does Bennett's coaching roots trace back to Columbus, but so do his playing days. He grew up in North Platte, where he played soccer growing up but moved to Columbus in eighth grade.
He then played on a club team, until he was able to play on the first-ever Columbus High soccer team in 1990.
"I got on a club team in ninth grade, played club and was part of the first Columbus High program in 1990," Bennett said. "I then played at Central in the fall of 1991. After I graduated, I moved back to Columbus and spent a couple of years up at Lakeview coaching and when we were settled back into Columbus my daughter was involved in soccer and I was approached by Chuck Francis, who was the athletic director at Columbus High at that time.
"He asked me if I would consider taking over for the men's program and here we are that much later. It's been fun. I love the sport and enjoy the coaching side of things."
Although soccer is still a growing sport in popularity in America, Bennett said he has always had a love for the game.
"It's one of those games where there's not a lot of scoring," he said. "A lot of people don't like it for that reason. If you watch the game, there are so many things that are going on besides the scoring. You have to be in amazing shape and just reading the game. I could sit and watch it all day."
The women's Soccer team will be starting in the 2019 Fall Season and already have games scheduled against Northeast Community College, Sheridan College, Central Wyoming College and Trinidad State Junior College.
The team will play its home games at Raider Soccer Field.
Peter Huguenin is a sports reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com