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Balen relishes her time at Mt. Mercy

by Matthew Ondesko: Managing Editor

Playing one sport is hard at times, playing multiple sports can be extremely difficult. A player must try and divide his or her time between each sport to make sure they can be the best at what they do.

Mount Mercy Academy basketball player Meghan Balen knows a little about trying to play multiple sports during a school year. After volleyball season in the fall, Balen dives right into basketball and then finishes up the school year by playing on the lacrosse team.

Time management is the biggest factor when trying to balance three different sports, but Balen has been able to make adjustment during her carer.

“Dividing up my time to make sure I’m ready for each sports season has never been easy and my time management skills have grown as I have,” stated Balen. “I definitely try to prioritize my practices and allocate time efficiently, balancing different aspects of fitness for each sports season. Balancing my time effectively, especially with different sports seasons, has been a constant learning process, but I feel I have a strong grasp on how I should prepare myself for the sports season that’s next to come.”

That includes jumping from one season to the next. When the volleyball season ends, Balen has maybe a week off before getting right into basketball practice and games. That goes the same when the hoops season comes to and end.

While some athletes may want a break to recoup, and get healthy, Balen likes to be busy. She likes hopping from one to another. It’s a way to keep her busy, and focused.

“Personally, I don’t mind jumping from one sport to another when sports seasons change. It’s good to have a little week off of no sports, but ultimately, I love being active and playing my sports, whether i’m on the volleyball/basketball court or lacrosse field,” stated Balen. “If anything, I can’t wait for my next sport to start! The more active I am the more i feel lively and motivated.”

If Balen isn’t busy enough with school, and sports, she also is a gymnastics coach. Balen For 13 years was a gymnast, but she had to decide at some point what sports she really wanted to focus on.

That meant giving up gymnastics, but not giving up the sport completely. After her playing days were over, Balen took on the role of coach.

“I was a gymnast for 13 years prior to working as a gymnastics coach, but i’ve always had a love for it, so when I knew it was time to quit being a gymnast and focus on the sports that really meant the most to me, I decided I should work there so I can still be apart of my gym family,” stated Balen. “I’ve been a gymnastics coach for four years now. Balancing work with athletics is difficult but I thankfully have great staff that helps cover my shifts for games and tournaments."

Playing and coaching are two different things. Sometimes, it’s easier to be out on the court, or the mat, than it is to coach someone. As a player, you know what to do when it comes down to crunch time.

As a coach, you now have to teach the players the same thing that you see a grew seconds before. It can be hard at times, but also rewarding. As a coach, you make some of the best relationships over the years. A coach is mentor on and off the field.

“Coaching is one of my favorite things to do. I have so many close relationships with all my kids and I adore helping them get better at what they love doing,” stated Balen. “Ever since I started working as a gymnastics coach, I’ve come to realize that I am a reliable source to them and they look up to me. I really just love watching my kids grow and learn, it’s really rewarding.”

Work, school and athletics doesn’t leave Balen with much free time. She is always on the move, and when she does have a day to herself, she is usually catching up on homework - or sleep. It’s easy to ask the questions Why do all this? Why out all this stress on yourself?

Balen uses her parents as motivation. She wants to make them proud at all time, either on the field or in the classroom.

“With being a very busy athlete, I find it very hard to find time to myself. When I do find myself having a day off from sports I spend it catching up on homework and taking naps. I do the best I can to keep my GPA as high as possible so when I get those days off. I make sure to use them to my advantage and make sure my work is done,” stated Balen. “And I love to sleep (who doesn’t?), and it’s good to be well rested and have energy throughout your day so little naps here and there are heavenly. Making my parents proud is my motivation to keep my grades high and my athleticism strong. They are the main reason I have become as aggressive and confident in myself as an athlete and I really owe it to them.”

Keeping her confidence up at times could be hard. It has been a rough couple of seasons for the teams she plays on. Every team goes through a rebuilding phase, and Mt. Mercy is going through that right now.

Losing wears on you. It can wear on players, and coaches. No one likes to lose, but having a winning attitude going into every game, can hopefully change the fortunes around.

“Losing is of course never fun. I always try to go into games with a winning attitude. I try to make that “winning” energy present on game days so my teammates feel less stress seeing that their captain is ready to play. Beyond the scoreboard, I always go out giving my all, while trying to encourage my team, highlighting what they did well,” stated Balen. “I make sure I tell them what we did good and bad because I’ve had my fair share of losses and know how easy it is to get down on yourself in a tough game. I want to make sure they know that losing is okay, and just apart of life. Regardless of scores, I feel like it’s my job to make sure my team knows that theirs always another game and I've learned that it's not the absence of defeat but the collective response to it that defines a team. So to me, as long as my team uses our loss as a motivation to improve, I don’t mind losing one bit.”

Also being a leader helps during times when they are tough. Balen has taken the leadership role to heart. She is showing the younger girls on the team what it’s like to go through the up and down of a varsity season.

She values the chance to inspire, and guide, the younger players. While sharing some of her personal experiences.

“Taking on the role of a leader on the girls varsity basketball team is a special opportunity and a responsibility I value. I see it as a chance to inspire and guide them while sharing my personal experiences,” stated Balen. “Whether it's offering encouragement during tough times or leading by example both on and off the court, my aim is to create a supportive environment. Witnessing their progress and watching them build confidence is truly rewarding. It's not only about basketball skills but also about maintaining a positive and empowering atmosphere for everyone to have room to grow.”

Growing is something Balen has done over her last four years at Mt. Mercy. Each year she has gained more, and more, confidence. She also has had time to reflect on what her four years at Mt. Mercy have meant to her.

It’s a journey that isn’t lost on her. The friendships she has made through her high school career, both on and off the court, is something that she will cherish for a long time. For her, Mt. Mercy has been her second family.

“Mount Mercy has always been my second family and without the support i’ve received from teachers and fellow students, I don’t think i’d be as confident and accomplished as I am now. What I’m taking away from Mercy is the genuine connections with teachers and the bonds forged with teammates. The relationships i’ve made are treasures that I will carry with me beyond high school,” stated Balen. “It's not just the lessons from textbooks or victories on the court but the overall experience that has made Mount Mercy an irreplaceable chapter in my life.”

This chapter of he life is about to come to an end. Balen celebrated senior night in volleyball, and she recently celebrated her second senior night, with fellow senior Katie Regan, last week for basketball.

While there are still games left in the season, being able to celebrate last week with a win against Buffalo Seminary made it that much more special. She can’t wait to finish the season with a great group of young ladies, as they make a push toward the playoffs.

“My second senior night was last week and I was just so happy the entire time. Being celebrated with my team was such a fun experience. The emotions definitely kicked in later that night when I came to the realization that I was almost done with basketball for good, but I really tried to remember the time I still have left with such an amazing group of girls,” stated Balen. “We had a great game and all around, I could tell everyone went above and beyond to make that night special and it makes me feel so appreciated and loved knowing that they did so much for just me and my teammate Katie.”

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