October 23, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria Sports Hall of Fame: Verhoff was two-sport star for Elyria High

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ED BETZEL/CHRONICLE

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ED BETZEL/CHRONICLE

As a youngster, Jessy Verhoff was influenced by many people, including her parents, teachers and coaches.

She said recently that among them, she was influenced most by her parents. Chuck and Darlene Verhoff encouraged her and her three sisters to compete in sports and to benefit from the life lessons they would learn in the process.

Jessy, a 2000 graduate of Elyria High, has benefitted, to say the least.

Now Jessy Bendik and the mother of three, she became a standout in basketball and volleyball in high school. She earned an impressive array of conference, county, district and All-Ohio honors. In her senior year, she won both the Lorain County Miss Volleyball and Miss Basketball awards, which are presented annually to the top senior in each sport.

With her skills and hard work, she also earned a basketball scholarship and played four years in college, three at Indiana State, where she and her sister, Lisa, were teammates. When Jessy was a junior, they played on the Sycamores’ Missouri Valley Conference championship squad, and as a senior Jessy was the team captain.

For her many notable achievements, Jessy Verhoff Bendik will be inducted into the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday with Elyria Catholic’s Mike Kozma and Dr. David Krol, Elyria West’s TJ Staton, Elyria High’s Tim Sweigard and the 1964 EHS football team Jim Tomsic will receive the Distinguished Service award.

News of her induction was a surprise.

“My father and sisters found out from an article … in the Chronicle about the 2014 inductees,” she said. “He saw my name listed as one of (them), then they all contacted me to share the news.

“I was confused at first because I had received congratulatory text messages from family members and was uncertain as to why I was receiving (them). Then when I saw my dad’s message, it was clear that I was being inducted into the Hall of Fame. I was both excited and eager to be inducted.”

The significance of her selection had an impact.

“I am humbled and thankful for every experience I encountered, both difficult and challenging, positive and true, in my athletic career. In connection with every experience, I learned and understood the principles of belief in oneself, trust, character, courage, and commitment.

“Athletics (have) taught life-prospering lessons that I am able to pass onto my children, as well as to those athletes … I am blessed with the opportunity to coach through Hoops & Volleys.”

Hoops & Volleys is a sports training and instructional program for boys and girls she founded in 2011. It is based at the Splash Zone in Oberlin, which is operated by the Lorain County Metro Parks.

Verhoff’s Hall of Fame selection came as no surprise to two of her Elyria High coaches, Carol Russo, the legendary former volleyball coach, and Mike Walsh, longtime coach of the Pioneers’ girls basketball team.

“Jessy was a treat,” Russo said. “She is talented, smart, personable and beautiful. She is a natural leader who works hard and wants to be the best at everything she does. That pretty much describes her.”

Verhoff might not have been the tallest player on the volleyball court, but so what?

“She played much taller than her 5-foot-4 height,” Russo said. “She was our setter for three years and I don’t remember her ever leaving the floor. She was the floor leader and ran our offense to perfection.

“(Jessy) has a bubbly personality that enabled her to get on a teammate without it being mean or rude. Her teammates respected her. We played a very competitive schedule and she never shied away from competition. Jessy thrived on it.

“No one worked harder than Jessy or strived for perfection more than she did. If she identified something she needed to work on, she worked on it until she got it right. One of the things that made her a great leader was the fact that she worked so hard. I don’t think she ever took a day off.”

She topped 95 percent as a server all three of her full varsity volleyball seasons, was a 99-percent setter and recorded no fewer than 30 kills in a season, 44 as a senior. For her career, she logged 269 digs and 25 solo blocks. And the list goes on.

“I definitely remember volleyball, freshman year, and being pulled up to varsity to go to the tournament,” she said. “It was an amazing experience. I was able to play with my friends and my sister (Sarah). So we shared in that memory.

“We had some really fun times with Carol Russo. Just team stuff, the little jokes and pranks we used to pull. We always had a successful team. It seemed like we were always playing Amherst in district finals, and that’s a memory. I’ll never forget playing them our junior year. That game for districts to go to regionals was pivotal.”

Walsh, the former Pioneers boys coach, said Jessy’s skills were an influence in his decision to coach the Elyria girls.

“Jessy is one of the main reasons I took it,” Walsh said. “After Mitch (Gillam) took the boys job, they came to me after Bill Bird resigned and said, ‘Why don’t you coach the girls?’ I said, ‘I can’t coach the girls. No way.’ But Chuck Verhoff and Kim Branham came to me and said, ‘Why don’t you come to an open gym and watch this girl play?’

“So I went to the open gym and I saw Jessy. She was in the eighth grade, going to be a freshman, and she was zooming around the floor and hitting shots and I was like, ‘Wow, she’s pretty good.’ I thought, ‘Well, I’ll have her for a couple years,’ and I could see right there how good she was gonna be.”

How good was she?

She scored 1,337 career points, a 15.5 points-per-game average. She also made 285 assists and 251 steals. She averaged 20-plus points a game in each of her final two seasons, in which she scored 873 of her total points. She also made more than 70 percent of her foul shots as a junior and senior.

“Basketball was nonstop and there were so many things I remember,” Verhoff said.

One of those was Walsh made his players work hard.

“He instilled in us what it took to be competitively successful,” she said. “He was a good coach in regards to getting yourself in the gym. You know, ‘Jess, you have to get in the gym and you gotta work hard. You can play in college and this is what you have to do.’

“He was very helpful in the recruiting process, sending out videos and getting in touch with coaches. At that time, I had to be flexible because I didn’t know if I wanted to play volleyball or basketball.

“I had offers coming in both sports,” she said. “But I chose basketball because I always had worked three times as hard for it. I had something to prove. I was always up for a challenge.”

Basketball and volleyball are still important parts of her life.

For starters, she is married to Jayson Bendik, a former Pioneers basketball player, who as a senior was the team’s leading scorer (12.7 points a game). He is the dean of students at Horizon Science Academy in Lorain, and also a coach for Hoops & Volleys working within its tot programs and leagues, as well as coaching their son’s soccer team.

Bendik and Jessy dated in high school, then reconnected after college and married in 2007. They have a son, Brayden, 4, and daughters Briella, 3, and Baylynn, 1.

Today, Jessy’s most important connection to sports is the Hoops & Volleys program.

“It’s been a dream of mine in college and even before that to teach the youth,” she said. “I’m lucky to have the ability to teach these kids what they need in order to grow as an athlete and a person. There is a huge need in the community and sports in general, for kids to understand values such as discipline, courage, commitment and respect.

“It’s been a dream. It’s a passion.”

Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or basketball@bobdaniels.info.

If You Go

WHAT: 43rd Elyria Sports Hall of Fame banquet
WHEN: Saturday, social hour at 5 p.m.
WHERE: Spitzer Center, Lorain County Community College
TICKETS: Deadline to reserve tickets has passed.

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