GVSU women’s tennis sophomore rebounding after rocky freshman year

GVL / Emily Frye  
Madison Ballard warms up before the match against Saginaw Valley State University on Sep. 12th, 2015.

GVL / Emily Frye Madison Ballard warms up before the match against Saginaw Valley State University on Sep. 12th, 2015.

Mason Tronsor

“You have got to want to be the best before you can even begin to reach for that final goal, and you have got to be prepared to sacrifice a lot to get there,” said Billie Jean King, a pioneer for women’s tennis.

Grand Valley State women’s tennis player Madison Ballard epitomizes what it means to face adversity head on and make the necessary sacrifices to reach her ultimate goal.

The sophomore from Fenton, Michigan arrived at GVSU as a highly touted recruit. Her career record in high school was 95-8. She was a four-time state qualifier and a two-time state individual finalist; she received First Team All-State honors four times. She was listed as the third-best senior in Michigan by www.tennisrecruiting.net.

Most freshmen arrive to campus and have to worry about finding their classes and doing well in those classes. As for Ballard, she had to take on dual responsibilities very early in college.

“It was a huge transition,” Ballard said. “It’s more than just tennis to focus on. The school aspect makes a huge difference. There are both harder classes and harder competition on the court.”

The freshman campaign for Ballard was not what she had expected. Her game was not on the level of her satisfaction as she moved around the playing positions. She played up to four different positions her freshman season.

“All the hype definitely affected me,” she said. “I didn’t do well my freshman year. I wasn’t playing to the best of my abilities.”

The impact of the expectations placed upon her shoulders started to weigh on the freshman. So, instead of continual workouts and matches, Ballard decided she needed a break. She took some time off during the winter semester and focused more on school rather than the courts.

During the down time however, a blessing in disguise occurred. Ballard sprained her ankle during the spring matches. The injury kept her out for at least a month. After grinding out nationals with a bum ankle, she used the rest of her time before the fall season began to rehab.

Ballard travel down to Florida where she met a couple of tennis coaches who helped her regain her health as well as confidence on the court. All of his was set up by Ballard’s father, a former tennis player.

“He is my rock,” she said. “He has been there with me through it all. Having your dad as a coach is actually really tough. He knows every aspect of tennis, though.”

As she returned to GVSU for the 2016-17 fall season, Ballard was out to prove herself. Coming off an ankle injury and sub-par freshman season, she wanted prove she belonged. Sure enough, she did.

Before the season officially began, the team decided which player would play in what spot by conducting a round-robin tournament. All the girls on the team played each other for the top spots on the roster.

“She went undefeated,” said GVSU coach John Black. “She definitely has a game where she can beat anybody on the court. She can hit harder than just about anybody in our conference. She just needs to work on when to do it.”

Ballard was awarded the No. 1 spot due to her hard work and performance. She went from a top-rated recruit, to a sluggish freshman year and back to optimism for her sophomore year. She is 2-0 thus far in singles play and 2-0 from the No. 1 seed in doubles partnered with Allie Sweeney. Her confidence and work ethic have rubbed off on her teammates.

“She is really supportive,” said sophomore teammate and roommate Nicole Heiniger. “She really improved a lot from last year and she has helped me improve as well. We have been in it together.”

Ballard is currently undecided in school. However, she says hopefully tennis is in her future.