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By Douglas Sciorra

LaBenne signs with Roberts Wesleyan College


Wellsville swimmer will major in education at prestigious Rochester NY college

Not many high school student athletes achieve what Ellie LaBenne has: Being recruited to play college sports and sitting down to make that commitment. With her family and coaches at her side, Ellie recently put the ink on paper to join the Roberts Wesleyan College Redhawks swim team.

To best explain how Ellie got to this point in her career, her proud parents Holly and Jeff can best explain:

“At the young age of six years old, Ellie hit the water and never stopped! We witnessed her love of the sport flourish. At one point in her swimming career, her mindset shifted to include both a physical challenge and a mental component. We couldn’t be more proud of her ability to combine her physical and mental effort to be the best athlete that she is capable of being! Once her mind, body and soul set a common goal, there is NOTHING stopping her! We could not be more proud of the TOTAL individual she has become. We can not wait to witness where the next leg of her journey leads her!!”

The Wellsville Sun got in touch with Ellie and asked her more about this milestone with a brief interview:

WS: First of all, congratulations!!  It seems intense to be making such a big commitment. What is it like to sign a letter of intent ?  Describe the scene and how you felt ?

Ellie: Signing the letter of intent was a surreal experience. It was one I had always seen in pictures of others, but never expected for myself. Getting to sign while being surrounded by some of the biggest supporters in my life was also a bonus. It felt rewarding and exciting to see over a decade of work amount to this moment.

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WS: You success is also Wellsville Central Schools success, in particular the swimming program.  Coach Hand and his staff have been very successful.  After having him as a coach for your high school career, what makes him so effective ?  What can other coaches learn from his approach ?

Ellie: I have had the honor of working with Coach Hand for not only my high school career, but also many years prior to that through club swimming. He is the type of coach you can go to about anything, good or bad, and he will help. He does everything in his power to make the team a family and through that, he made me want to come to practice every day and look forward to it. I think other coaches can learn that sometimes the relationships built within the sport are just as important as the sport itself.

WS: Swimming, while clearly a team sport, is still quite an individual effort.  Tell readers and other athletes, how have you been so successful that colleges like Roberts Wesleyan recruited you ?   

Ellie: Initially, I had not planned on continuing to swim in college. Until this past August, I had believed that when my senior season was over, my swim career was too. Having a couple college coaches reach out to me about swimming caused me question if I should continue this sport at the next level. In the end, the decision for me to swim in college came when I had achieved two life-time bests at our sectional meet. As for my success in the sport, I worked hard to get better and make the times I wanted. I began swimming around age 6 and since have learned the ins and outs of this sport. There was a time when I was swimming all year round on three different teams. I went to camps, met with different coaches, watched and re-watched my races, and put in countless yards. When my season concluded, I knew that I had potential for even better things and was not ready to hang up my goggles.

Holly, Jeff, and Parker LaBenne look over Coach Hand, Ellie, and Coach Mariotti

WS: Your parents are well known as major cheerleaders for you and the support system that allowed you to thrive.  Besides being great parents and humans in general, what is the one thing you really want to thank them for?

Ellie: I’d like to thank my parents for spending countless hours on-deck with me. They were always in the stands, at the timing table, behind the blocks, or on the live stream cheering me on.

WS: Talk to the middle school kids who look up to you:  Why swimming ?  

Ellie: Swimming is likely the most rewarding thing I have done. I have gained a love for the sport, friends, and memories. In and out of the pool, there is a constant support system that lifts you up and pushes you to new heights. You meet people from other schools who are competitors in the water and friends out. Each race offers a fresh start and a clean slate. For me, swimming help build character and determination.

Ellie with Coach Hand and Coach Mariotti looking on

Holly and Jeff want the Wellsville swim team coaches to know how instrumental and influential they have been in Ellie’s success:

Our family would like to thank each of the coaches involved in our local swim community. The influences they have had in Ellie’s development, as an athlete and an individual, speak volumes. Without each one of them, she would not have developed the strength, endurance, perseverance and dedication she has to set her goals for her future! Through the Wellsville varsity swim program and both the Aqua Jag and KVAC swim teams our community has available wonderful swim programs to allow our children to learn and grow in the sport of swimming.

Coach Steve Hand, who has worked with LaBenne her entire career, is clearly very proud of this Sea Lion standout:

“Watching a senior swimmer leave the program is tough. For most it is the end of the road as far as competitive swimming goes. The program has produced quite a few kids to go on to swim and dive in college. This year Ellie decided to sign with Roberts to continue her swimming career but most importantly to further her education!”

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