Tonawanda News — An eighth grader dominating on the soccer pitch isn’t completely out of the ordinary. But when she’s running around with varsity athletes, eyes pop.
Hope Balling has been one of the key factors for the Tonawanda girls’ soccer team this season. The Lady Warriors are out to an undefeated 11-0 start in ECIC IV play, and although she is referred to as the “baby,” her play shows maturity beyond her years.
Balling has 14 goals and 14 assists on the season, and her 42 points are second only to senior Kalyn Compeau.
Her transformation to varsity superstar comes after spending her afternoons at Tonawanda Middle School, where some of her classmates come up and ask what it’s like playing for a varsity team.
This is nothing new for Balling, however, as she was called up to play for the varsity team during last year’s postseason. This experience helped her form a closer bond with her elder teammates.
“Now the girls know me more, so I feel I fit in better and can play better,” Balling said. “Just [to be] a part of the team more.”
THS coach Julie Johnson sees similarities between her and Compeau, one of the best players in Western New York. Johnson said Balling had the talents to play on varsity last year, but she was a bit small and the coach didn’t want to bring her up too early.
This season, she’s started from opening day and emerged to become a vital part of the team’s game plan.
“[It] wasn’t something I planned on because she was a little bit younger, but in varsity it’s the best 11 people get to play and she is definitely in the top five without a doubt already as an eighth grader,” Johnson said.
Balling reached out to Johnson over the offseason to demonstrate her interest in playing at the highest level of soccer Tonawanda had to offer this season. The coach was already certain Balling would be on the opening day roster.
“It wasn’t even a question really,” Johnson said about Balling trying out for varsity. “You make her think that so she keeps working hard, but it wasn’t even a question.”
Although quiet when off the field, Balling is just as vocal as any other player once the game begins. Her teammates want to make sure she is confident and if she looks frustrated, someone will find her and make sure she keeps pushing through.
The team also makes her feel equally a part of the team off the field. Balling is included in the team’s activities, including “team bonding” exercises and sleepovers, despite the fact she’s five years younger than some players.
“I wish I was in high school,” Balling said.
On the field, her favorite plays are when she is dribbling down the sideline looking to cross the ball for one of her teammates. However, sometimes even as she is looking to assist, she finds a goal instead. She’s watched as one of her ‘passes’ find its way to the back of net unassisted three times this season.
Her nickname of the “baby,” is not meant to make her feel like an outcast, but the right to be considered a member of the team, Johnson said.
“When a team comes up with nicknames for you, sometimes you don’t like it but it’s a sign of success,” Johnson said.GAME PREVIEW For more on today's ECIC IV showdown between Tonawanda and Holland turn to 2B for a complete preview. Follow @tonanewssports on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.