Ballinger has helped Centre volleyball program develop

September 30, 2004|JILL ERWIN

Leah Ballinger came into Centre College and started winning conference honors almost immediately. She hasn't stopped, either.

Centre's senior setter was named the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference co-player of the week two weeks ago after being named the MVP of the Centre College Classic.

Ballinger said the awards are nice to have, but they aren't what matters to her.

"Seeing this program build up has been great," Ballinger said. "This is the best team we've had in my four years here. It's really exciting."

Ballinger and the Centre program have grown together. She came in with 12 other freshmen and will graduate with three - Whitney Faust, Lisa Fryman and Danielle Norman. Centre coach Stephanie Dragan refers to the four of them as her "babies."


Dragan said Ballinger has become a completely different player than the one that walked through the doors at Centre College just over three years ago.

"Leah came in with incredible talent and great experience," Dragan said. "We've really worked on her court demeanor. Her freshman year she was very bossy. She liked to not necessarily yell at her teammates, but she was incredibly harsh. Now, she knows how to get the job done in a polite way."

Ballinger admits she may have been a bit touchy as a freshman - "I just wanted it so bad that I pushed people too hard," she said - but she now knows she can get the same results with a different technique.

"I can get more accomplished talking to people one-on-one and channelling my anger," Ballinger said. "I've definitely become more level-headed. I don't feel like I get out of control anymore, though Coach might disagree with that."

All-time leader in assists

Ballinger ranks in the top 10 in nine career categories at Centre, and is the all-time leader in assists with 4,613. She is second in career digs with 1,561 and third in block assists with 161.

She has been named all-SCAC every year she's been at Centre and was named to the all-region team her freshman season.

Dragan said she worked harder recruiting Ballinger's class than any other class she had brought in, and couldn't believe the time was coming for them to leave. Ballinger said that ability to care deeply for her players is part of what makes Dragan such a good coach.

"Our relationship with Coach ... we respect her as a coach, but at the same time, she's like a best friend," Ballinger said. "It doesn't matter if we're having a problem socially, academically or with our family, she's there. It's awesome because we respect her that much more and it's definitely helped the success of our team."

Dragan and Ballinger also share a physical resemblance, something that can be fun and annoying at the same time. Whenever the duo work camps in the summer, be it at Kentucky or Purdue or somewhere else, they say people are constantly asking if they're sisters.

But sometimes even Ballinger's own sibling can't tell them apart.

"When we went to Barbados my sophomore year, my brother was standing at the bar talking to her and he turned around and she walked away and in the process I had walked up," Ballinger said. "He turned around and said, 'Stephanie ...' and I was like, ' just called me Stephanie.'"

Dragan said the Centre administration isn't immune from making the same mistake.

"One day, Leah was bent over, digging into her bag, and (athletics director) Brian (Chafin) walks up and pats her on the shoulder and says, 'Good luck this weekend, Steph,'" Dragan said. "She just kind of looked up and said, 'Uh, thanks, but I'm not Stephanie. I'm Leah.'"

The mix-ups won't be happening much longer, as Ballinger will be graduating and looking to go into graduate school for interior design. She said if she can find a place to do that and also get a job as a graduate assistant with the school's volleyball team, that would be ideal for her.

"I remember my first practice, my first match at Centre College," Ballinger said. "Now the fact that next year I'm not going to be doing this ... My friends that have played through college said they were like, 'Oh, I can't wait, only two more months,' and I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, only two more months. What am I going to do?' This has been my life forever.

"Going in, I was scared. I had no idea what to expect. Now, it's like old hat. I've been doing it for years and I can't imagine not doing it next year."

Central Kentucky News Articles