Sports

Abby Benton’s analytical bent sparked soccer, career

ABBY BENTON, A 2008 VUHS alum, helped the girls’ soccer team go undefeated in 2006. She is seen here in the final vs. Montpelier. Benton scored the winning goal in the game, and she also played on two Commodore basketball championship teams.

This year showed me that there are a ton of things you don’t know, that you can learn lessons, wherever you are from, whoever you meet. It made me more of an open person, and it’s helped me ever since.
— Abby Benton

STOWE — In 2006 Abby Benton sparked the undefeated Vergennes Union High School girls’ soccer team to an undefeated season and the Division II championship with a program-record 39 goals in a single season. That distinction was bookended by 2005 and 2006 D-II basketball titles that she helped the Commodore girls’ hoop team win.
A 2008 VUHS grad who is now 30, Benton said despite the title tilt favoring hoop, soccer was her favorite sport.
Why? She enjoyed analyzing the game on the larger field, where play takes longer to develop.
“The vision of the field is bigger and more clear,” said Benton, who also played soccer at Skidmore College. “You can just really envision six passes down the field, vs. basketball where it’s a tight court and it’s harder to see the play and make it happen, which is why I lean more toward soccer. I like to envision what’s going to happen and then make it happen.”
Benton’s high school co-coach, Addison Northwest School District Athletic Director Peter Maneen, remembers Benton’s almost systematic approach that blended with her talent.
“She always read the game and put herself in position to set up what was coming,” Maneen said. “She just had the ability to see a few plays ahead.”
That analytical bent and Benton’s love of sports probably helps explain her career choice.
For the past four years Benton has been a numbers guru for the nation’s largest daily fantasy sports company, Draft Kings. Recently she moved, at least on a temporary basis, with her fiancé, Will Butt, from Boston to Stowe, where she is working remotely.
Why Draft Kings? She first signed on for a job that involved media analysis in the company’s “customer retention and monetization team.”
“When I joined Draft Kings it was more of a programmatic media-buying role. So I knew I could do that,” Benton said. “And I’ve also wanted to find something sports-related, knowing that’s where my passion is.”

SPORTS CAREER
That passion started at age three, when Benton was already skiing with her Waltham family. Soon she began playing soccer with older siblings, Will and Eliza.
“I first remember playing when I was maybe five or six, and that was mainly kicking the ball around with Will and Eliza,” Benton said. “Then I started playing club when I was seven or eight.”
When she started kicking the ball into the net, she was hooked.
“I mean, who doesn’t love scoring goals?” Benton said.
Before high school Benton played high-level club soccer, traveling along the East Coast and competing against future NCAA Division I athletes and in front of college coaches.
By the time she was a sophomore, Benton said that competition made her feel ready to blossom for VUHS. Then came the magical junior year, when she helped a balanced team with a veteran defense and midfield and athletic goalie go 18-0.
“It definitely inspired me just seeing how the girls were training and going to different camps and just seeing college coaches line the fields at some of those ODP (Olympic Development Program) tournaments and being like, ‘Oh man, I better step up my game,’” she recalled.
The Commodores defeated Montpelier, 2-1, in the D-II final. Benton’s 39th goal was the game-winner.
“We just had amazing chemistry that year. A lot of us had been playing together for eight, 10 years,” Benton said. “We were 17-0 at that point, and we weren’t going to lose our first game in the championship.”
Maneen said the team had many good players, but Benton deserved credit for leadership as well as production.
 “She set that tone in terms of how she showed up for practice every day, just prepared to give it her best,” he said. “Abby’s just a natural leader.”
For example, Maneen pointed to how Benton handled a move from striker to midfield as a senior. 
“That was the position we needed her in. And she just took and ran with it and did a tremendous job and showed everybody else that it’s about the team,” Maneen said.
Benton still holds the program records for single-season goals, single-season points (44), single-game goals (five), and career goals (75) and points (91). In 2007 she was also named as Vermont’s Player of the Year, an All-American and a Scholar All-American.
Maneen added: “As great as she was as a player, she was just a tremendous person to be around and for her peers to be around.”
Of course, for Benton the two basketball titles, accomplished with tight-knit groups of friends and Coach Peter Quinn, are also fond memories.
“It was never my top sport. But we had such a good team throughout AAU and high school that it was right up there,” Benton said. “I remember Pete Quinn saying once that she was a pretty good basketball player for calling herself a soccer player. I remember thinking if Pete Quinn says that I must not be that bad.”
Benton said her Skidmore years, where she remained a midfield playmaker, had ups and downs.
“Freshman year was great. I went in and as a player I earned a starting spot right away. I had some nagging injuries sophomore and junior years, which was unfortunate. It cut into my playing time,” she said.
Benton’s senior year ended well with a captaincy and better health. The Thoroughbreds earned an NCAA D-III berth and won a tournament game.
“We had a really amazing team,” she said. “I wish I was healthy all the way through and could have played 100% all four years, but still managed to get a solid playing time every year.” 
Teamwork and leadership are the central lessons Benton took away from sports.
“It’s especially helpful in a workspace. There’s a lot of people you might not get along with, but you know how to work well with them,” she said.
“The other thing that I took away personally was general leadership skills. It’s great to work as a team, but you also do need to have that kind of leader on the field or on the court. And in the office as well at some point you have to make decisions.”

CAREER & TRAVEL
Skidmore also put her on a career track, although it took a while for her to realize it. Benton experimented with courses as a freshman, and Economics piqued her interest and became her major.
“My dad was an Economics major. And it was kind of fun, that first class, I talked to him about it. I think that was kind of what sparked my interest,” she said.
Benton took related courses in business, statistics and data analysis, but still was uncertain of what lay ahead when she received her diploma.
Benton interned with a company in Vergennes that summer and fall and helped coach the Commodore girls. Then she took a job in Boston with Wayfair.com as an operations analyst, working there for about a year.
Still uncertain, she moved to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., home of Skidmore, and helped coach a youth travel team for six months as a tryout for a coaching career. Then she took a job with MyWebGrocer in Winooski that played more to her business strengths.
Again, Benton was doing data analysis, working on an “account strategy team,” starting out with client service and moved into “programmatic media buying” over a three-year stay.

AROUND THE WORLD
But that was not exactly a stay.
About halfway through her tenure Benton decided she wanted to see the world, did some research, and found a start-up called Remote Year.
Remote Year helped digital employees who could work remotely by booking them apartments and co-working spaces in cities around the world for a year, with 12 one-month stays, and making all the travel arrangements. The travelers would be responsible for their own meals.
Benton did some homework and discovered doing so would be “probably cheaper than paying rent and for a car and everything else.”
She signed on, beginning in late February 2016 and ending in March 2017. She made four stops in South America (two in Argentina, one each in Bolivia and Peru), four in Europe (London, Prague, Serbia, Croatia), and four in Southeast Asia (Kuala Lumpur, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam).
“It was the best of both worlds. I could travel and still get a paycheck,” she said.
What are her best memories? 
“Definitely just seeing different cultures was number one on that list. You meet so many people. There’s so many cool traditions around the world, and food and places,” Benton said. “The overall experience was kind of unbelievable. I pinched myself to know it was real.”  
The stays allowed the travelers to take side trips, embed themselves in the areas and get to know local residents, she said.
“The (best) was definitely the time off when you’re not working, and just going out and exploring and meeting locals, just seeing how they live and sitting down at a family meal with someone,” she said. “We were living there. We were making our own food and meeting locals and playing pickup soccer with Argentinians.”
Her favorite stop was Vietnam.
“It’s such an interesting history, the food’s incredible,” she said. “There are different climates anywhere you are. We were staying in Ho Chi Minh City, where it’s hot and humid pretty much all the time, but then you go up to Hanoi and it’s 60 degrees and no humidity, and then you’re on the Mekong Delta.”
Benton felt she matured during the trip.
“I think I became a little bit more like, compassionate, almost, a little bit more willing to accept the unknown,” she said. “I grew up kind of thinking that what I know is what I know and that’s what’s right … This year showed me that there are a ton of things you don’t know, that you can learn lessons, wherever you are from, whoever you meet. It made me more of an open person, and it’s helped me ever since.”

ON THE JOB
Certainly her career is progressing. Not long after returning, Benton left MyWebGrocer to explore other opportunities.
During a 2017 a trip to Portland, Ore., to scope out possibilities there, Benton interviewed for a position back in Boston with Draft Kings and got the job, at first joining the international acquisitions team. 
A move over to the customer retention and monetization team followed a few months later. Unsurprisingly, she describes her job as “a lot of numbers, a lot of analysis.”
More recently, Benton was recruited for a new initiative in Draft Kings’ “sports book casino side,” about which she is not allowed to say much.
“We have a few things in the pipeline that will hopefully keep growing the company,” she said.
Regardless, Benton said Draft Kings has remained a good fit as the roles have changed.
“It’s been great expanding my knowledge and my skillset. It’s a pretty cool company. There are some days that I am researching NFL stats and whatnot. And there are others where I’m trying to write copy using NBA nicknames, and others when I’m sitting at my desk and I see (NFL all-star receiver) Larry Fitzgerald walk by,” Benton said.
“It’s a cool mix of I’m in the sports world, and I’m doing something that I went to school for.”

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