It’s been two decades since Sierra Bennion held her first golf club, and she’s still going strong.
A five-time all-state, all-conference and all-state tournament team selection for Jamestown High School, Bennion is headed into her final collegiate golf season at North Dakota State University this fall with some plans to make her senior season her best yet.
“I am trying to practice a lot during the summer and hopefully everything goes really well and it’s my best year,” Bennion said. “I have a good mindset going into it which is the biggest thing in golf -- it’s so mental.”
NDSU women's golf head coach Matt Johnson said Bennion has had a great career at NDSU and can depend on Bennion without fail. Bennion helped lead the Bison to the Summit League Championship title in 2018.
"As a recruit, I saw a lot of potential in her game and she hasn't disappointed," Johnson said. "She has made huge improvements to her short game and putting, and really understands the course management much better than she did as a freshman. She is a true competitor who is always ready to compete (and) she's not afraid to succeed or fail (but) goes out confident each day."
Bennion said tournament-qualifying rounds at the start of her freshman and sophomore seasons did not go as well as she hoped, but through more experience and practice she found a rhythm her junior season. Johnson said Bennion's positive energy along with a strong mental game and consistent swing made her a staple on the 2018-19 team.
“This was the first year I played in every tournament,” Bennion said. “We had to qualify for tournaments and so I qualified for every tournament we played in, which was really cool.”
It was a great junior season for Bennion individually, but a tougher one for the Bison as the defending conference champs placed fifth out of nine teams at the 2019 Summit League Championship in Newton, Kan. NDSU was also going playing in stronger tournaments, competing against larger NCAA Division I schools like Duke University.
Bennion said the larger and more intense tournaments, coupled with an inconsistent rhythm, made the 2018-19 season a growing and learning one for the Bison. Looking ahead to 2019-20, Johnson explained he expects his team to make another run at the Summit League title.
"Expectations for the year are for each individual to grow and improve as players, which then allows the team to improve as a unit," Johnson said.
Bennion said she believes a strong and competitive team is one that has similar values and the same passion for the sport. During the recruitment process, Johnson works to bring in athletes who not only have the skillset but also a similar character.
“I wouldn’t pick another school,” Bennion said. “I absolutely love NDSU (and) I can’t rant enough about how much I love my team ... they're like my sisters."
She's found some sisters on the course, but Bennion also acknowledged there were many members of the team outside of the eight women on the roster.
"Family support means everything," Johnson said. "We have great parents, grandparents, siblings (who) travel well with us and make the difference. The Bennion's are super supportive of Sierra and our team as a whole. They give us an edge every time they are at our tourneys."
Bennion agreed, saying her parents took her to many summer golf tournaments in Minnesota and have rarely missed any of her tournaments. Bennion is the daughter of Steve and Julie Bennion of Jamestown.
"They’ve just been super supportive and I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without them--they deserve the credit," Bennion said.
Her 10 years of competitive play has seen its ups and downs, but a love of the sport has been a constant. Bennion said after her senior season at NDSU, her love of golf will continue and she is confident she will play recreationally. It remains to be seen, however, if a future in competitive golf will be a part of her life after college.
“You never know what’s going to happen, which is also cool 'cause I am always down for an adventure,” Bennion said with a smile.