Aug. 13, 2009

By Amy Farnum

Just Elizabeth Betterbed’s last few months of her collegiate career have stacked up to what some people accomplish in a lifetime, and the senior at the United States Military Academy is only getting started.

The women’s soccer player from Fox Island, Wash., enters her last year at West Point as the top-ranked cadet in her class academically, a feat which she achieved while helping Army win its first Patriot League title and first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2008.

Betterbed, an ESPN CoSIDA Academic First Team All-American, headed to Mexico to study last semester, but after being sent back to the U.S. early due to the Swine Flu, she returned to have an eventful summer beginning with three weeks at Fort Benning, Ga., at airborne school.

“We spent two weeks training to jump and to land, which is kind of the hard part actually,” said Betterbed.  “The last week we jumped five times, which was an incredible experience.”

Then, it was off to Washington, D.C., to intern in the Chief of Staff of the Army’s office for General George W. Casey, Jr.

“As a cadet that was an incredible experience,” said Betterbed.  “He’s a four-star general and the highest ranking person in the Army – besides me, the lowest ranking person was a Major.  Everything there was at such a high level.  I learned a lot and it was interesting to see how the Army works.  They gave me a different perspective than I had as a cadet.”

Betterbed is having the time of her life, and is glad her parents suggested applying to West Point.  She loves it so much that her sister Claire, a cross country runner, will be following her to the USMA this fall.

“There’s a wider focus here,” said Betterbed.  “I think it’s great because it keeps us interested.  I guess it just takes a different personality.  What’s really cool is that everyone is in it together – living together, working together, and studying together.” 

In addition to academic and athletic responsibilities, all cadets have military duties, and Betterbed will be the second-highest ranking cadet at West Point this year as the Deputy Brigade Commander.  

“There’re a lot of things we do differently here, but still at points in the day, we can look around and say we’re in college and just hanging out and that’s fun,” said Betterbed.  “I’m just trying to make the most out of the experience I’ve been given as possible, knowing that it is such a short time.”

With graduation approaching, and a five-year commitment to the Army to follow, she is also thinking of her future career.  

“I think I’d like to be a helicopter pilot in Army Aviation,” said Betterbed.  “Depending on what type of helicopter you end up flying, you train a year to two years down in Alabama at flight school, and then you are sent to a unit.  There are so many special opportunities in the Army -- they say it’s impossible to say what you’re going to be doing in five or 10 years.”

But before her military career starts, Betterbed has business to tend to on the playing field as the Black Knights begin a new era with former assistant coach Stefanie Golan taking the reins from long-time head coach Gene Ventriglia.  

“Last year was really great, not only to have the experience of going to the NCAA Tournament, but also to send our coach off the right way,” said Betterbed.  “We felt like that was something he deserved.

“Now, we’re talking about how other teams might be gunning for us, instead of writing us off.  Teams in our league will probably take us a little more seriously.  We have to be careful not to be comfortable with what we did in the past.  We have to work a lot hard, and know there are places we have to improve.  We have a new coach and she’s definitely working on all the areas we can.”

The Black Knights will open the 2009 season by hosting Maryland on Aug. 21 at 7:30 p.m.