Haylie Bennett heads to France to begin pro volleyball career

Haylie Bennett’s volleyball skills have definitely taken her places. Philomath fans will remember Bennett’s powerful presence in a Warriors uniform and she followed with an exceptional collegiate career at Oregon State. Now, the 22-year-old on Monday will embark on a new adventure in her young life as she takes those volleyball skills to Paris, France, to play professionally.

“It’s really nice to be able to play the sport that I love but I’m also really passionate about traveling and just getting this new experience,” Bennett said. “It’s nice to be able to wrap my two favorite things into one.”

Haylie Bennett (Photo courtesy of OSU Sports Information)

If COVID-19 hadn’t come along and disrupted the world, Bennett might’ve played her senior season at Oregon State. But the pandemic postponed athletics and forced many college students to make hard decisions on their next move.

“With the season being canceled and knowing that I didn’t want to stick around for a sixth year, I was just kind of weighing all the options,” Bennett said.

Bennett, on track to graduate in December, could’ve started a master’s program and remained on campus and with the volleyball program for the 2021 season. The NCAA later announced that volleyball would begin on Jan. 23.

But she decided to go ahead and sign with an agent, who got her name out to various teams in Europe. She made the decision to take the professional route in September.

“I was supposed to leave in late September, early October, and then with the visa process during COVID, it’s insane,” she said. “There’s so many new rules and restrictions and all that stuff that it makes it very difficult to get a visa.”

As of late last week, Bennett’s itinerary had her leaving overnight Monday for Washington, D.C., and then continuing on to Paris on Tuesday. She will be joining what appears to be a quality volleyball program.

“This French team was a team that I felt I could make a good impact on,” Bennett said. “It’s good competition, they’re in a really good league and so overall, I felt like it was a really good move for me.”

Bennett signed with the Levallois Sporting Club located in Levallois-Perret, a community she said is just a 30-minute walk from downtown Paris. Coached by Fred Hava and considered to be in the second-highest league in France, the team opened its season in October and will continue into the spring.

“We’re a pretty good team; in the league we’re supposed to be competing to win the league so that was also another motivating factor,” Bennett said. “We’re working for big goals with this team.”

The Levallois roster includes one other American — Santita Ebangwese, a blocker who played at Syracuse. Bennett said she’ll be plugged into the position of opposite hitter.

In a typical year, players arrive in August to prepare for the upcoming season but the pandemic and various restrictions made it impossible for Bennett to get out of the country.

Bennett did have a few other signing options.

“This was a good location of where I wanted and also good competition and a quality team,” Bennett said. “

Bennett said she would need to take a COVID-19 test 72 hours before landing in Paris.

“France is pretty strict, but they’re mostly strict on travel so that’s why it’s so hard to get into the country,” Bennett said. “The professional leagues didn’t get completely shut down but there are restrictions like no fans and stuff like that.”

Bennett, a 6-foot-1 right-side hitter, was an honorable mention selection on the Pac-12 all-conference team for the 2019 season. Bennett set career highs in nearly every statistical category and led the Beavers with 333 kills — the 10th-most by a junior in OSU history.

Bennett, daughter of Helen and Don Bennett, graduated with Philomath High’s Class of 2016 following an exceptional high school volleyball career with the Warriors. As a freshman on the Corvallis campus, Bennett redshirted in 2016.

Her junior season represented a sort of comeback after injury problems in 2018 limited her time on the court. As a redshirt freshman in 2017, Bennett started all 33 matches at opposite hitter.

Bennett said she’s never been to France. Her family did take a trip to The Netherlands, which is where her maternal grandparents were from, but she was only 3 years old and obviously doesn’t remember it.

“I do not speak any French,” Bennett laughed. “I’m kind of going into this blind.”

As for living arrangements, Bennett said the team is paying for her studio apartment in the city and that it’s within walking distance of the gym.

Staying in volleyball shape has not been easy. Bennett hasn’t played competitively in more than a year since the Beavers’ final match of the 2019 season.

“I’ve been trying to but it’s hard with gyms that keep closing and stuff,” she said. “For a while, I was getting to go to some open gyms with the Oregon State team and touch a ball that way.”

When the gyms were closed, Bennett said she would do “YouTube hit workouts and every day, my mom and I pepper just to touch a ball.”

Bennett’s mom also played volleyball at Oregon State during her college years.

“I’m incredibly grateful for my time at Oregon State,” Bennett said. “It was an amazing experience. I met some of my lifelong closest friends there and was able to be coached by Mark (Barnard), who is an incredible coach. I’m really, really thankful for the time that I had there.”

Bennett said it would’ve been nice to play as a senior but that she’s ready to move on.

“I think where I’m at right now in life, I’m ready to graduate college and start that next chapter of my life,” she said. “It’s sad that I didn’t get that senior season but I’m leaving Oregon State with no regrets, so I’m thankful.”

Looking back on her OSU career, Bennett said two moments come to mind as most memorable.

“It was such a cool experience being able to go to the NCAA tournament and compete in that and play,” she said. “Just playing in Gregory Gym (the University of Texas’s home venue) is an incredible experience.”

Oregon State went 21-12 in 2017 and played North Carolina State in the first round of the NCAAs, falling in a tough five-set match. Bennett had a match-high seven blocks to go with nine kills.

But there was also the victory over a nationally-ranked Oregon team in 2019.

“Last year, beating the Ducks in that fifth-set Civil War game — that was a top-tier moment,” Bennett said.

Playing at Gill Coliseum, the Beavers rallied from a 2-1 deficit to take the final two sets, including 15-13 in the fifth.

Academically, Bennett will this month earn a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology with a minor in public health.

Bennett said she’ll play volleyball for as long as her body allows.

“But at some point, I do want to come back,” Bennett said. “The end goal is to be a nurse and so I’ll come back and go to nursing school eventually.”

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