DeSales Roundup: Molly Ballard refuses to back down on court

DAVE PURPURA
dpurpura@thisweeknews.com
Junior Molly Ballard has been impressive in her first season playing first singles for the DeSales girls tennis team, which was 10-4 overall and 2-0 in the CCL before battling Watterson on Sept. 22.

Molly Ballard could smile about it later, but in the midst of what she called "probably the longest match I've had, ever," Ballard was anything but pleased when a shot that seemingly would have won a match against Big Walnut's Kina Ehlers was called out Sept. 10 at Woodward Park.

Ballard, the DeSales girls tennis team's first-singles player all season, also called it no coincidence that she ended the next point with an emphatic slam and hung on to win 6-2, 6-7, 1-0 (13-11) despite losing a 5-2 lead in the second set.

"It's not that I forgot about (the disputed shot), it's that I used it as motivation to get myself going. I knew I should have won and I just kept going," said Ballard, a junior. "There were a few times I just had to stand there, take a deep breath and tell myself the score was 0-0. I had to push."

For Stallions coach Tom Snyder, Ballard's win symbolized the mental toughness he wants to see from all of his players, let alone at first singles. That is the area of Ballard's game in which Snyder saw perhaps the most improvement, and her efforts helped DeSales to records of 10-4 overall and 2-0 in the CCL before playing Watterson on Sept. 22.

"You can tell what she's feeling and when she is playing confident, you can tell," Snyder said. "It's all about the mental growth for her. She's always had the skill set. Last year, her top spin and strokes, she didn't trust them as much as her slice so that's been the biggest growth this year, trusting all her shots and just developing as a really mentally tough player."

Ballard played doubles as a freshman and second singles last year behind 2020 graduate Megan Husslein, fully anticipating to move up one court this season.

"I might have been more timid (early in the season), but we're far enough into the season that I should be comfortable at this point," Ballard said.

She began the year by winning the first-singles title in the Mount Vernon Invitational on Aug. 8 at Kenyon College and entered the week at 10-4 in dual matches.

DeSales, which defeated Ready 5-0 in a league match Sept. 15 at the Park of Roses, tried to dethrone two-time defending CCL champion Watterson to finish league play. The Stallions sought their first league championship since 2008 and fourth in program history.

Ballard also is a defensive midfielder on the girls lacrosse team, which lost the chance to defend its Division II state championship last spring when its season was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Lacrosse and tennis teammate Ella Dingman went so far as to credit Ballard for teaching her how to slice.

"She is definitely someone we can look up to as a player and model our skills (after)," Dingman said. "You definitely aspire to be like her as a player. My slice has been huge for me. I use that shot a lot. I was able to figure it out after a few practices when she helped me."

Ballard smiled and deflected Dingman's praise.

"She may be giving me a little more credit than I deserve on that one," Ballard said. "I enjoy being a leader. That's what I need to be."

Girls volleyball team continues to adjust

The girls volleyball team found itself adjusting to changing personnel and a tough schedule in pursuit of its second consecutive Division I state championship, as it was 4-5 overall before playing Pickerington North on Sept. 19 and 2-2 in the CCL entering a Sept. 22 match at Ready.

"Nothing has been easy. We've taken a lot of time figuring out who needs to be where and doing what, and we lost two scrimmages that would have helped us work on things like that. Lots of things are still coming together," coach Brenden Pence said. "It's things like new roles and who is next to who is in a rotation. We're doing a lot of things well. We scored 20 points in every game (in a 20-25, 25-23, 25-23, 25-21 loss at Hartley on Sept. 15). We just had trouble finishing."

Pence cited mobility among his hitters, including more time for Saje Washington at right-side hitter and McKenzie Hall on the outside, and an increased role for versatile freshman Kerrigan Habing.

Setter Gabby D'Amico also is seeing more rotations as a hitter.

"We have a lot of mobility in that group and they're not just athletic, but they're also improving with their blocking and defense," Pence said.

The coronavirus pandemic forced several changes to the Stallions' schedule. Among the additions were a third round of matches against Hartley, Ready and Watterson that will not count in the CCL standings and a state final rematch with Parma Padua at home Saturday, Sept. 26.

Boys soccer team playing well in CCL

Despite a 2-5 start overall, the boys soccer team found itself at 2-0 in the CCL before playing two-time defending league champion St. Charles on Sept. 22.

Nick Kennedy scored both goals Sept. 15 in a 2-1 win over Watterson, with the game-winner coming on a free kick.

Ryan DeStefanis and Andrew Shaffer each had a goal Sept. 8 and Gabe Weikert made 10 saves in a 2-1 win over Hartley to start CCL play and snap a 0-3 start.

Five of the Stallions' first six non-league games were against Division I competition.

Shaffer had a team-leading three goals through six games.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Nick Kennedy of the DeSales boys soccer team goes up for a header during a 2-1 victory over visiting Watterson on Sept. 15. Kennedy scored both goals for the Stallions.