“Get back on the horse” takes on more of a literal meaning for Jessica Bennett than it does for most of her peers.
The Fremont senior is a world champion in youth rodeo. Riding horses and playing basketball are both passions for the self-described, proud “farm girl.”
Bennett, who is pushing 6 feet tall, brings leadership to a Fremont girls basketball team that is 6-2 overall and tied with Ludington atop the West Michigan Conference Lakes Division at 4-0 in the early going of the season.
“She’s tough mentally. There’s nothing she can’t handle. She’s very, very coachable. She’s just a really good girl that leads us by example rather than with just words,” said Peter Zerfas, who is in his first season as Fremont’s girls basketball coach after serving as the Packers’ boys coach for more than two decades.
The 18-year-old, youngest child of Aaron and Leslie Bennett is making her presence known on both ends of the floor this season.
Jessica Bennett, who considers herself a guard but is willing to play forward and center, too, is averaging 13.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.8 steals, 2.7 blocks, and 2.0 assists per game. She averages a couple of 3-point makes per contest.
In Fremont’s 45-28 win at Whitehall last week, Bennett swatted a dozen shots for a Packers girls single-game record.
Other big performances for Bennett this season include 25 points in a win over Reed City and seven steals in a victory over Howard City Tri County.
The four-year varsity player averaged 10.5 points per game last season.
Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
“I would say, Jessica’s a very huge leader — she’s amazing at it,” Fremont senior Katie Ackerman said during a CatchMark SportsNet media-day podcast with Bennett and Zerfas last month. “She is always someone you want to look up to and she’s always teaching others and being positive. It’s awesome to look up to her.”
Bennett, who carries a 3.5 GPA, plans to attend a community college or NAIA school where she hopes to play basketball. She intends on studying business management with a minor in sports management.
Her family owns Bennett Farms Inc., which features 8,000 pigs along with horses and cows. Bennett said she’s been riding horses “since she could walk.”
In 2021, Bennett captured a world championship in Senior Girl Barrel Racing at the National Little Britches Rodeo Association competition in Oklahoma.
She’s also won the Michigan High School Rodeo Barrel Racing championship and Rookie of the Year.
Bennett rode her horse named “Famous” in winning the world title, but her favorite now is “Dolly,” a smaller horse that measures about 14.2 hands or 58 inches from the highest point of the withers down to the ground.
Depending on the day, playing basketball or riding horses is her No. 1 passion. On the basketball court, Bennett controls her effort and attitude. On a horse, a lot depends on the equine.
Ackerman gave Bennett a hard time on the podcast, but the exchange was all in fun.
“Every time she goes for a layup and is, like, just slightly touched, she flops on the floor,” Ackerman said with a smile.
Bennett interjected: “You’ve got to act a little bit.”
Ackerman responded: “I’d say she’s the biggest flopper on the team.”
In fairness, one who rides horses competitively has to possess a certain degree of showmanship.
In seriousness, Bennett has exhibited a lot of growth during her Fremont basketball career, including from a physical standpoint. She stood around 5-foot-8 as a freshman and shot up to her current height.
“She brings lots of leadership to us and experience. She’s a four-year varsity player,” Zerfas said. “She’s really — I don’t know if it really showed tonight shooting-wise — but heating up offensively. She was averaging probably 17 (points) over the last four or five games. Each game she’s getting better.
“Defensively, as the season goes on and as we get into better basketball condition, she’s getting better and better and better. Mostly, she brings that leadership for us.”
Photo by Courtney Jimison | CatchMark
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