Severna Park has a long, glorious field hockey history because it has had an exceptional number of talented players. That trend continues with Marissa Balleza, a sophomore forward, who led the team in scoring with 21 goals and eight assists in 18 games going into Wednesday night's 4A state semifinal game against Westminster at Franklin.
Balleza, who has a 3.7 grade-point average and whose classes are all in the honors program, also is a member of the Falcons' tennis team, for which she plays No. 1 doubles.
"I think tennis and field hockey complement each other," said Balleza's field hockey coach Lil Shelton. "In tennis, you play close to the ball. It's in the air, coming at her. She has to move her body, play both sides, forehands, backhands. It's very important in field hockey to be able to do that, too."
One of the sophomore's biggest strengths is her hand-eye coordination. Shelton said she has "come on strong this season.
"She has really strong stickwork, and her hand-eye coordination is unbelievable. She can redirect the ball into the goal in a flash, and she has a fantastic dodge [to get around defenders]. And she's a workhorse.She's constantly in motion."
During practice, when Balleza isn't playing she can be spotted bouncing the slick plastic field hockey ball on a field hockey stick, like a tennis ball on a racket, giving a demonstration of why her hand-eye coordination is so perfect.
Question: How long have you been playing field hockey?
Answer: I started in fourth grade. That was pretty young, but my sister, Hannah, played and I picked up on it. I really enjoyed it and stayed with it. It's a fun sport.
Q: What about tennis? How did that come in to your life?
A: Both my brothers play tennis. This year Matthew is at Maryland, but last year he and Paul, who is a junior, and I were all on the tennis team. We were all varsity players, and it was so much fun.
Q: The field hockey team, as you know, has a long history. This season you're hoping to win the team's 20th championship. Do you feel pressure because of that?
A: Oh, yeah. I feel it all the time. I want to keep our reputation up. None of us wants to be the team that loses. And my parents remind me of it all the time. They say: "Play your best. Give it your all. Play your best and have no regrets." They love to give me constructive criticism. It can be frustrating. I don't always like hearing what I've done bad. But they're right and I always have to listen to them.
Q: When your sister was playing here last year, did your parents give her the same "constructive" advice?
A: Oh, yeah! She got the same thing. My mom played basketball growing up, and my dad played field hockey in England or somewhere in a foreign country. And I get some advice from my brothers, too.
Q: Did your sister give you advice?
A: Hannah, last year in the championship game, I was a freshman and so nervous. At the start of the game I felt intimidated. My sister saw that and she calmed me down. She told me, "Don't feel threatened." It was really supportive. She saw I needed help.
Q: Is there a lot of tradition associated with the field hockey team?
A: A lot of tradition. We don't listen to music. We do cheers — cheers that are passed down through the years. We do lots of cheering in the team room, on the way to the field and on the field."
Q: How does it feel to be the team's leading scorer?
A: Am I? I don't know. You don't really think about how many goals you've scored. It's hard to keep up with some things. I know we're 17-1-1 now. I just love the running part. I just try to go after the ball hard and stick with it.
Q: In the classroom what is your favorite subject?
A: I like math class. It's solid learning. You don't have to think. I mean, it's different from English. In English, you have to be creative and make up ideas for papers. Math is simple, with equations that lead to a specific answer.
Q: You're only 15, but do you think about what you'd like to do when you're finished with school?
A: I'd really like to do something in the medical field. I'm thinking radiology or X-rays and stuff.