Katie Benz has been hired to complete the Montana women's soccer coaching staff, the program announced this week.

Benz replaces Vijay Dias, who left the program last winter to pursue new career opportunities, and brings seventh-year head coach Mark Plakorus' staff back to full strength. 

Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but raised from the age of 2 in Sonoma in northern California wine country, Benz played her college ball at Cal where she could focus on athletics and academics.

“Once I heard from Cal, that was my focus,” she said. “I was a good student, but I probably wasn’t a Cal-grade student. I wouldn’t have gotten into Berkeley without soccer." 

Benz scored her first two collegiate goals as a freshman but was limited to nine matches and just two shots in an injury-plagued sophomore season.

It took Benz that long to come to terms with what, exactly, she wanted to get out of her collegiate soccer experience.

“It took until my junior year to figure out what I wanted,” she said. “As a coach, I want to do what I can to help players begin that process the moment they step foot on campus. I want to help them figure out their own motivations, whatever those might be.” 

Benz graduated in 2012 with a degree in legal studies. She put it to use as a paralegal while coaching in Sonoma County and playing for the North Bay FC Wave of the Women’s Premier Soccer League, working partly to decide if law school was in her future. It wasn’t.

She quit her job and spent a month in India with her mom volunteering at a leprosy hospital before moving to La Grange, Texas and dabbling in music as part of a band called The Youngest. After six months of collaboratively writing and recording an album -- Feral Road, a collection of folk-rock Americana songs -- the band spent the rest of that year on the road. 

She wasn’t quite done with the road. She built a camper from a flatbed trailer and went on a two-month road trip, only to end up in Denver, where she discovered soccer hadn’t quite left her system yet.

She started at Denver University as a volunteer director of ops and coached for the Colorado Rush. She actually worked Montana’s camp last summer, then watched her Pioneers lose at home in the fall to the Grizzlies 1-0.

“Mark was looking for someone this spring, so it was a smooth transition," Benz said. “I’m from a small town in California, so I wasn’t connecting to Denver as a city as much as I wanted to. Missoula is a lot more appealing. It reminds me a little bit of home.”

Working at Montana will be her first full-time college coaching position. She’s ready. And she hopes it is just the first step on a long journey that takes her to where she wants to end up: a Division I head coach.

“That’s my ultimate goal,” she said. “I think having a female on staff everywhere is necessary, but I also think there is a huge need for us to keep going forward and getting to the head coaching position. I don’t think you see that enough.”

With fewer than 330 Division I head coaching jobs, the odds are stacked against her. Of course she’s been in this position before. As a player she learned that she won’t get what she wants right away. She will face twists and turns, ups and downs on the latest step of her wild road.

AJ Mazzolini can be reached by email at ajmazzolini@missoulian.com or on Twitter @ajmazzolini.