Since joining the Swarm in 2009 via a trade with the Edmonton Rush, Ryan Benesch has transformed into one of the game's most exciting scorers. Now entering his fourth season with Minnesota, the former NLL scoring champion sat down with MNSwarm.com's Alec Schimke to discuss this year's squad and training camp.
Schimke: There was a lot of talk last year about how competitive the NLL was with nine teams. Fast forward to this year, everyone has now had the chance to retool their rosters this offseason. How competitive do you think the league will be in 2013?
Benesch: It’s going to be super competitive, I think even more so than it’s ever been. The young guys that are coming up in the league this year, last year, and in the years to come are so talented and skilled. We (veterans) need to work harder and make sure that we can keep our jobs because obviously those young guys are coming in and trying to take them.
Schimke: Overall though, how good is it for the league to see an influx of talented, young players? And as you said, it also must motivate you veterans.
Benesch: Yeah, definitely. The new guys coming in are going to be exciting and fans are going to be excited to watch them especially with the draft picks we have. Shayne Jackson - the kid has unbelievable hands; I watched him play in the summer and played against him this summer. Kiel Matisz - he’s a monster and the same with Brock Sorensen. All three of those guys are unbelievable, and (Alex) Crepinsek, I heard that he was a great defender in the MSL this year. I’m excited; it should be fun.
Schimke: As you mentioned, you played against Shayne Jackson this summer, and I know a lot of the other guys on the team are either friends with or have played against this year’s rookie class. How helpful is it to have a group of rookies coming in who are familiar with you guys?
Benesch: It definitely helps the team gel quickly. We all kind of know each other, either from playing against each other or playing with each other on other teams. It definitely helps when you walk into a team where you know you’re better friends with a bunch of guys rather than just an acquaintance, especially for these young guys coming up to be welcomed into a team quickly is such a big step. We’re all pretty close knit and it just makes the team that much closer.
Schimke: You're entering your fourth season with the Swarm in 2013. When you came to the team in 2010, you guys finished 5-11, and since then the team has gone 8-8 and most recently 9-7. Each year, the team has improved and last season the franchise won its first playoff game. What are your expectations heading into Year 4?
Benesch: It’s just like our motto says, we have unfinished business. Last year was good, but it wasn’t good enough. It was great to make the playoffs and get that first win but we wanted more from the beginning of the season, so it was great but it wasn’t enough. We have got to keep that trend going. We’ve got to continuously get better, and John (Arlotta) and our coaching staff give us that opportunity.
Schimke: Has the time gone by fast for you in Minnesota? It feels just like yesterday that you joined the team.
Benesch: Yeah, it’s amazing how quickly the years go by, that’s for sure. I still feel like I’m a rookie on this team, like it’s my first year. I love this state and I love this team, so I just cherish the time that I’m here. Hopefully we’ll have many years to come yet.
Schimke: You have really developed as a player and grown as a leader in your time in Minnesota. In particular, you were really leading the young group of guys last year. What kind of role do you see yourself having this year?
Benesch: Pretty much the same. We’re still a young team and I think the young guys rely heavily on the vets. It’s just like I did when I was a rookie, I relied on the Josh Sanderson’s and the Aaron Wilson’s. I learned from them so it’s part of my job to teach these young guys coming up what it’s like to be a lacrosse player in this league and how you’re supposed to hold yourself.
Schimke: When you look back on last season, what sticks out to you the most?
Benesch: Just the way that this team was as a group. We didn’t have any cliques, we didn’t have anybody who was on the outside, or any loners, you might say. We all got along great together. We had our team lunches and team dinners, and we were always together, always having fun. There was always that competitive edge in practice and we all wanted to be better than what we were. I’m looking forward to this season. I think it’s going to be the same and probably even a little bit more.
Schimke: Training camp opens this weekend. What are the team's expectations?
Benesch: We’re all pretty excited, looking forward to getting out there. We won’t have to do as much team building (as last year), but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to be competitive at camp. I know last year was probably one of the hardest training camps I’ve ever had in my entire life and from what I hear, it’s only going to get tougher and more competitive this year. It will be nice for everyone to see each and talk about our summers, but once we hit the floor, all of that kind of goes aside and we’re ready to work. If you’re not, then you won’t be around.
Schimke: You guys have an exhibition contest against the defending NLL champion Rochester Knighthawks on December 8th. That has to be a good test to gauge where the team is at this point.
Benesch: Yeah, definitely. They are the defending champs, and they made some moves in the offseason, and they brought guys in too. They are going to be a great team again and it’s obviously going to be a great test for us. Last year we went out and played them (in the preseason) and I don’t think we did very well. We have a great group of guys returning, so it’ll be good to see where we are at for sure.
Schimke: Last question for Ryan, what are your overall goals for the upcoming season?
Benesch: Improve everything. There’s always room for improvement, both personally and team wise. Our record was great last year, but we definitely want to have a better one this year, keep the trend continuing. We want to do better and make a push for the Champions Cup. Like I said, we just have to come ready, buy into the system, and just be prepared.