Ballinger, Hebbeler Overcome Injury to Lead Young Bearcats|
Aug. 31, 2011
Preseason polls can't guarantee a single win for the team picked to finish first or a loss for the team chosen last. The University of Cincinnati women's soccer team, which was picked to finish seventh in the preseason BIG EAST poll, is focused on proving its doubters wrong, having already opened its season with wins over rival Xavier and Northwestern. As a team staring down adversity, this Bearcats team has no better leaders than redshirt seniors Logan Ballinger and Emily Hebbeler. Both suffered season ending injuries during their careers at UC and have battled back wiser, more determined, and tougher.
"Their injuries at the time didn't benefit the team," head coach Salmon said. "But, we are already reaping the rewards of that. Their leadership, their poise, their ability to deal with adversity is tremendous and so when things pop-up that are unforeseen, they set the tone for the rest of the team that we can deal with this because they've dealt with worse. Would they have liked to go their entire careers injury free? Yes. There's a reason for everything. The reason is so they could lead this team and they are doing an awesome job at it."
Ballinger suffered a spiral fracture to her lower leg in the Cardinal Invitational. Sept. 6, 2009, is a date that haunted Ballinger on every x-ray during the injury, reminding her the exact day she was injured. The date may be remembered for a negative reason, but if it would've been any later she wouldn't be eligible this year, seeing that it was last game she could play before she redshirted.
"I knew I was out for the season," Ballinger said, reflecting on the injury. "It hit me hard because I was playing so well. The first thing that went through my mind was will I be able to redshirt because I was on the borderline. It was the fifth game, the final game I could play before I redshirted. It was at Louisville against South Carolina, Sept. 6, 2009."
Hebbeler sustained a bad ankle sprain in a spring game against Ohio University during her sophomore year that required a summer surgery. The recovery did not go as smoothly as planned, which caused her to sit out the following fall season.
"The last game of the season she (Hebbeler) got hurt," Coach Salmon said. "They did surgery really late that summer. When she came back, she wasn't healing right and it was taking longer than expected. So half way through the year we just opted to redshirt her. At the time knowing she was one of our technical players, obviously that was a loss for us. Looking at the bigger picture of where we need Hebs (Hebbeler) we wouldn't have had her this year when it's most critical. But I feel everything happens for a reason."
The injuries far from discourage either of them, instead motivating the two to press on, knowing their team would need their assistance in the future. Coach Salmon sees the injuries they suffered in the past as opportunities to have down time, mature, become students of the game, and learn how lead and motivate their teammates. The two have become mentors for several of their teammates and work well with them on the field and off.
"Hebs looks to find (freshman Mackenzie) Grause now and looks to play off Jaz (sophomore Jazmine Rhodes)," Coach Salmon said. "Logan is really mentoring (freshmen Megan) Cravenor and (freshmen Christi Howard) Howie in the midfield. You look at that situation, that experience and that leadership, partnership with that similar mentality is what's making us so successful right now."
Ballinger and Hebbeler foresee good changes in the near future for their young team. The team consists of 10 freshmen (five who are starters), nine sophomores, four juniors and seven seniors. Coach Salmon still feels this is one best teams she's coached - by far the most fun, she says - and the best part for her is that the underclassmen mirror the upperclassmen with their competitive mentalities.
"We didn't do well (last year). But, I think we are in the building process and it is starting to come together this year," Hebbeler said optimistically.
Despite what was said on paper prior to their season starting, Hebbeler and Ballinger have expectations of making the BIG EAST tournament and hopefully getting an NCAA bid.
As Salmon persists, "Everything happens for a reason."
No preseason prediction can write the ending to a season that hasn't begun.