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.