Benintend Reaches Major Milestone

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On the surface, the Muhlenberg women’s soccer team’s 1-0 victory at Franklin & Marshall over the weekend was like so many others during head coach Leslie Benintend’s career.

The Mules played the type of stingy defense that has been a hallmark of her 18-plus seasons at the helm and sprinkled in some opportunistic offense to pick up an important Centennial Conference win. This one, however, was far from ordinary. By the time the final seconds ticked off the clock, Benintend had earned her 200th career victory – and entered some rarified air in the process.

Leslie Benintend
Benintend has defeated 42 different opponents, including one from Texas (Schreiner) and two from Rhode Island (Johnson & Wales and Rhode Island College) on her way to 200. The team she’s beaten the most? Bryn Mawr, 18 times.

With Muhlenberg’s latest shutout, Benintend became just the third female in College athletic history to record 200 wins, joining current tennis coach Linda Andrews and former softball coach Ruth Gibbs.

Already the winningest coach in program history with a record of 200-126-29, Benintend has been on the sidelines for a litany of memorable victories during her time at Muhlenberg. Her latest is certainly one Benintend won’t soon forget, even if she didn’t know she was on the cusp of history until just a few days before it happened.

“I was in New York City with my husband, and we were out to dinner with one of the parents, and they brought it to my attention,” Benintend recalled. “I actually had no idea. I’m not one of those people that follows my own wins and losses.”

Benintend, who came to Allentown from nearby Kutztown University, has helped the program reach new heights since taking over in 1995. The Mules won CC championships in 2000, 2001 and 2003 and also captured regular-season crowns in 2002 and 2009. Benintend has led Muhlenberg to its first six postseason appearances, including NCAA Tournament berths in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2009, and back-to-back ECAC Mid-Atlantic titles in 1998 and 1999.

Though her latest milestone came with a few weeks remaining in the regular season, Benintend’s 200th win still held plenty of importance. Senior CJ Graetzer’s second-half goal and typically stout defense kept the Mules in prime position to reach the CC playoffs for the second year in a row, a benchmark that holds more weight with Benintend than any individual record.

“I would give up a 200th win to get into the playoffs and to watch the team do well,” she said.

Benintend, though, might be able to have the best of both worlds. Muhlenberg (6-6-1, 4-2) sits third in the conference standings, just a point back of first-place Gettysburg. With just four CC games remaining, three of which are against teams with sub-.500 records, the Mules control their own destiny in the race for a playoff berth, so edging the Diplomats was already an important result. Handing their leader another milestone only added to the Mules’ elation.

“It’s amazing,” said Graetzer, who headed home a rebound off a long strike by classmate Susan Galgano for the game-winner. “I know all of us wanted to beat F&M, but it meant even more knowing she would have this huge milestone in her life. You could tell she really wanted it, and that’s what motivated us to get this win for her.”

Graetzer, who helped her teammates dump a water jug on Benintend in celebration, feels like the longtime coach hasn’t lost any of the enthusiasm she had when she first took the job nearly two decades ago.

Leslie Benintend
Benintend (center) celebrates her milestone win with seniors Amanda Wong, Stephanie Tramutola, Susan Galgano and Graetzer (left to right).
“She’s so motivating,” Graetzer said. “Her love of the game really shows, and that’s what keeps us going.”

For Benintend, ever modest, the credit always goes to her players, the glory and recognition to her program.

“I think putting Muhlenberg on the map is something that every coach wants to do,” Benintend said. “When you have a successful program, you have to win. I wouldn’t be where I am if it hadn’t been for my current players and all the past players that have given their heart and soul to the program and the College.”