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At The Top Of Her Game

This feature originally appeared in the Sept. 12 edition of Army Football Game Day versus Duke.

By Mady Salvani

When Liz Betterbed applied to West Point as a high school prospect, she didn't know much about the institution, but was intrigued by the challenge. 

Fast forward to 2009 where Betterbed is a senior at the United States Military Academy and her accomplishments look like a "Who's Who" at an institution noted by Forbes Magazine as the "Best college in America." 

The Mechanical Engineering major has been ranked No. 1 in her class since her freshman year. She is a women's soccer academic All-American and a Lowe's Senior CLASS Award candidate, and is currently applying for a Rhodes Scholarship, Marshall Scholarship and Fulbright Scholarship.

In addition to her academic and athletic workload, Betterbed holds down the second-highest position in the Cadet Chain of Command overseeing 4,400 cadets as the Deputy Brigade Commander.

Cadets are taught time management at West Point, and the 5-foot-5 inch midfielder is the perfect example of how to balance a demanding schedule of responsibilities.

"Every job has specific responsibilities and most about 15 to 20 bullets," explained Betterbed referring to her duties as the Deputy Brigade Commander. 

My job is such an open-ended one that allows me a lot more freedom working with the First Captain to see what is important and then head down that path instead of managing this program or that program. I am still feeling out my role and seeing what needs more attention and what does not."

Betterbed credits her position as the Summer Garrison Regional XO (Executive Officer) as preparing her for the role as the DBC. "My commander and the TACs are not afraid to let us fail, but as a team leader I didn't make too many decisions where I could either succeed or fail.

"What prepared me the most was the fact it stressed me. I never did any kind of staff work at all. I didn't lead during the XO job other than my staff, but now I have 4,440 cadets (which includes younger sister Claire, a plebe) and I have more responsibility to them."

It is important to Betterbed to do her best as she believes that you should get something out of practice, in the classroom as well as in her military training.

"I didn't know anything about West Point," smiled the native of Fox Island, Wash. "I showed up the first day and the sergeant concept just blew my mind. I thought everything was too cool to be scared by it, although I was just trying to keep up with what was going on."

Though she has been a starter on the women's soccer team since her arrival, Betterbed was not recruited by then coach Gene Ventriglia. Instead she tried out during "Beast Barracks" (six week summer training period) after drawing the attention of Ventriglia through a connection at home to the long-time Army mentor.

"The wife (Lisa (Hansen) Murray) of my club coach (Tom Murray) played for 'Coach V' at the Empire State Games when she lived in New York," said the high school first team all-state selection at Gig Harbor High School. "Lisa talked to Coach and convinced him to give me a chance because there was a 'no walk-on' policy."

The rest is history as Betterbed ensconced herself into the program. The multifaceted player drew the most time by a newcomer, starting in the midfield, moved to the back when injuries decimated Army's ranks, then switched to forward the following spring

After spending Spring Break with her teammates in Italy as part of the Academy's Cultural Program (the first athletic team to benefit from this program), Betterbed began her second year on the pitch as a midfielder when present-day coach Stefanie Golan joined the staff as the associate head coach. By the midway point, she was moved to the back where she made an immediate impact with her marking abilities

Last fall Betterbed helped write the script for Army's magical ride to the NCAA Tournament, the first in school history. The Black Knights fought through a wild Patriot League postseason tournament run with Betterbed helping them survive a 5-4 penalty kick shootout (she converted the fifth penalty shot to tie the shootout in the fifth round to force sudden death) with Bucknell in the semifinals. 

Army dispatched top-seeded Navy on its home turf, 1-0, in a double-overtime championship game to win its second title since 1993, along with its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.

"Definitely the big moment from last year and for everyone on the team was beating Navy in Annapolis. It was a heartbreaker for Navy, but an exciting moment for us to be able to send Coach Ventriglia off the right way by making our first trip to the NCAAs," noted Betterbed.

While the 12-6-3 Black Knights' story ended in the first round of the NCAAs at heavily favored Virginia with a 2-0 loss, nothing could tarnish what the underdog Black Knights had accomplished with Betterbed, a second team all-conference pick on defense and all-tournament pick, at the forefront.

Betterbed has started out her final season as an attacking midfielder and it has proven to be a good fit as she set up the final two goals in Army's 3-0 win over New Jersey Institute of Technology in helping the team get off to a 2-2-1 start.

Having a player who is a model cadet represents for Coach Golan what she wants from anyone on her team both on and off the field.

"On the field, Liz is a tremendous warrior who fights to the very last second of any game," said the first-year coach. "She is a true competitor both at practice and in games. Off the field, she takes care of business in the classroom and with her military obligations as well. She is the type of player who really gets the overall picture here at West Point."

Betterbed, who has earned "Stars" as a Dean's List student in the top percentile of her class, has ranked No. 1 since her freshman year. Being first in her class has been the norm having graduated first in her high school class of 400 students in 2006.

Despite her busy academic, athletic and military schedules, Betterbed still finds time to be active in the community where she is a Big Sister to a local elementary school student in nearby Highland Falls. She also volunteered at Trompo Magico Children's Museum in Guadalajara, Mexico, this past spring while spending a semester abroad studying Spanish at Monterrey Tecnologico as part of West Point's study abroad program (SAP). She was a counselor at Muscular Dystrophy Association camp in Gig Harbor, Wash., last summer as well as an English teacher at Uijeongbu Community Center in South Korea.

Liz Betterbed came to West Point for a challenge. She has met every demand of academy life - excelling in the classroom, on the soccer field as well as in the military and cadet training - in raising the standards of excellence for Cadet athletes at Army.

Mady Salvani is an Assistant Director of Athletic Communications at West Point.

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