Balsam plays through pain for Baldwin girls soccer
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Baldwin center-backer Kelsie Balsam is tough.
In the Lady Highlanders' 1-0 victory over defending section champion Bethel Park last week, the fiery junior suffered a calf injury with 20 minutes remaining in the contest.
Instead of leaving the field when her right foot began to go numb, Balsam gutted it out and helped Baldwin block 15 shots down the stretch to preserve the win and claim sole possession of first place in Section 4-AAA.
“The only thing that was on my mind was my team finishing the game,” Balsam said. “I couldn't just leave the team; we all needed each other.”
First-year head coach Caley Troutman loves her defender's willingness to give it her all for the good of the team, and isn't surprised Balsam didn't worry about her injury until after the win was secured.
“She's a tough player,” Troutman said. “She just plays through a lot of things.
“She is one of the main reasons we have so many shutouts. I know defenders don't get credit very often, but she is having a phenomenal season.”
Coming off of a WPIAL playoff appearance a year ago, in which Troutman was an assistant coach, the Lady Highlanders have compiled an undefeated section record en route to winning the section crown, and have recorded 14 shutouts along the way.
“They set the expectations to win section for themselves,” Troutman said. “I definitely think our defense helped us win all our games.”
No one player may be more responsible for the defensive supremacy than Balsam.
Her combination of quickness, ball-handling skills and intelligence leave opposing offenses stunned.
Balsam credits her ball-hawking ability to confidence.
“What I've learned from all the coaches I've had, is not to second guess any decision you make. Whether it's the right one or the wrong one, you can't second guess yourself because there's no time,” Balsam said. “That's how you learn to trust yourself.”
In her second year on the back-end, Balsam's decisions have been mostly right, and it has resonated with the team.
“She's a very vocal player on the field for us,” Troutman said. “She's definitely a leader even though she's a junior. (The team) definitely responds.”
Balsam knows her positioning on the field, and being able to see the game unfold in front of her, aids her possession style of play.
“My position has a good view of the field and I can see what's going on,” she said. “If I need to tell a teammate an instruction, I'm pretty loud. I make sure everyone is in the right position and marked up.''
After sitting out a 2-1 nonsection loss to Latrobe last Saturday to rest her calf, the all-section defender returned Tuesday to help Baldwin defeat Ringgold, 6-0, and win the team's first section title since 1986.
Now, after accomplishing all of their regular-season goals, Balsam and the Lady Highlanders need to set more — but still focus only on what's in front of them.
“Next is the first round of the playoffs, and after that hopefully the second round,” Balsam said.
“We have to keep thinking about the bigger picture, but still take one game at a time and not settle for anything.”
Justin Criado is a freelance writer.
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