Regional All-American, member of the United States Field Hockey Indoor National Team and Ivy League Rookie of the Week –– these are just a few of the accomplishments freshman attacker Hannah Balleza has already notched in her short field hockey career. From Severna Park, Md., Balleza first stepped onto the field with the Red last month in Lock Haven, Pa. A substitute in her first two games, Balleza greatly impressed her coaches and teammates and broke into the starting lineup against Bucknell — only her third game ever wearing the red and white. While the team as a whole offered a lackluster performance that day, Balleza’s teammates were quick to note how her play didn’t change at all, calling her nothing short of excellent.
“I’d say that Hannah Balleza, one of our freshman forwards, really stood out and had a phenomenal game,” said senior co-captain and midfielder Kate Thompson.
Since first breaking into the starting lineup Balleza has continued to shine in her role on the Cornell attack, and has not relinquished her spot as one of the starting 11 for the first-place Red (5-2, 2-0 Ivy League).
“She just has a good field hockey instinct,” said head coach Donna Hornibrook. “She’s a really good all-around player. She passes the ball well, she’s got good vision, she gets good touches around the net [because she moves so well] and she tackles well. She’s tough to beat defensively; she’s a really solid defender.”
Apparently the folks in the Ivy League offices agree, as Balleza was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week this week, becoming the first Cornell player to win the honor since Melanie Jue ’10 received it on Sept. 9, 2008.
“As a freshman you want to perform well for your coach,” Thompson said. “She’s taken on everything that the coaches have given her to do, and she’s always willing to learn no matter what the situation. She’s also been thrown into multiple positions on the field and she’s adapted wonderfully to different scenarios.”
Hornibrook also praised Balleza’s adaptability and composure when discussing what makes the freshman attacker so invaluable to the team.
“The thing that has impressed us, the coaching staff, about Hannah is that she has very impressive composure for a freshman,” she said. “[Hannah’s] very confident on the field and I really haven’t seen her in a situation where she’s panicked yet. As a freshman, that’s a really terrific attribute. In addition to the composure, I think she’s a pretty skilled player and I am also impressed with her speed and athleticism. She’s a good, solid, all-around player who can play a number of different roles and has done a really great job. You couldn’t ask for any more from a freshman than she’s given us.”
None of this should be new to the freshman who began playing field hockey in sixth grade and has recently gained a lot of experience with the US Indoor National Team, an experience Thompson believes has a lot to do with the skill Balleza has displayed on the field so far.
“She’s on the U.S. Indoor National Team for field hockey, which is very impressive, considering her age and everything. So she’s been playing with players much older than her and I think that is how [she has developed] her playing ability on the field and her ability to step up in certain situations.”
Yet, Balleza maintains that the transition to Cornell and college athletics has not been all that difficult.
“[The transition] has been great. It’s definitely not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I’d say the hardest thing is making the most out of my time, because I’m normally traveling on weekends and doing a lot of field hockey right now, but everything is really good.”
When asked about why she chose to come play on East Hill, Balleza was quick to answer.
“I saw the Hotel School, which I’m in right now, and it looked like something I’d want to do, so I looked into that more. I liked the campus, the people, the academics and ended up coming here.
Thompson reaffirmed how easy the transition to Cornell life has been for Balleza.
“She’s always got a smile, no matter who it is or what the situation is, but she’s always willing to hear someone out or have a conversation about your day or school or anything, that’s a really great quality,” she said.
That smile seems to be something that is quite common among many of the members of the field hockey team, whether they have just taken down another opponent or are out the night before the game drinking their traditional milkshakes.
“The girls on the team, they’re all nice and really, really helpful,” Balleza said. The freshman standout went on to talk about how, besides the girls on the team, she also loved “the competition, because it’s definitely above high school play.”
When not found on Marsha Dodson Field or roaming the halls of Statler, Balleza can most likely be found studying somewhere, like all other Cornell students. However, that should all change with the coming of the winter and spring sports seasons. When the men’s ice hockey team opens up play on October 29th against New Hampshire, be sure to look for the accomplished attacker in the crowd at Lynah.
“Hockey. I really want to go see the ice hockey games,” Balleza said when asked what her favorites sports are other than field hockey.
Yet, don’t count on only seeing Balleza at men’s hockey, as she maintains that she is a big fan of women’s hockey and is also truly looking forward to lacrosse season.
All in all, Balleza and the Cornell field hockey program seem to be a perfect fit for each other. As a freshman, she has already started in five of the team’s seven games, played in all seven of them and has so far notched four goals and one assist.
Original Author: Zach Waller