I did not want to go to Monmouth University. I never even heard of it. Mom told me about it, which probably turned me off even more. Apparently, one of the coaches came to one of my high school games and watched me play. It wasn’t until after the game that Ms. Decker told me there was a college coach looking to recruit players. I was so mad, but she knew what she was doing. I was always a headcase – probably would have played like crap.
So then the coach wanted me to visit. Again, I did not want to visit. Mom practically made me go. I remember the hour and a half drive up to Monmouth in the rain. It was miserable out, and it didn’t stop raining all day. We parked and walked into the head coach – Monica’s – office. She and I talked one-on-one and I instantly liked her. She asked me what I was looking for. I want to play good hockey. I’ll play Division I or Division III as long as its good hockey. I’m serious about the game. Monica definitely understood I wanted to be challenged. She looked almost like she had a smirk on her face as she listened to me, like she knew what I needed and I would find it here. We did a quick tour with her and even with the rain, I sort of fell in love with the campus. A lot of people say, you’ll know when you walk on a campus if you want to go there. I didn’t get that overwhelming feeling; I just thought it was pretty. When I left, Monica (couldn’t get over the fact that she had her players call her by her first name), let me know that Monmouth would be playing a spring game against Rutgers – which was near me. I should go and see what the team was all about.
I still wasn’t sold, but I looked forward to seeing them play against Rutgers because I knew the Scarlet Knights were a good team. It was an awesome game – very close. I can’t remember who won, but it was by one goal. From high up in the bleachers, I couldn’t take my eyes off this one player in the center of the field. She was all over the place, fearless, and so good. And she had my number – 16. It felt like fate now. I watched this team and I thought, wow, they are so good. I want to be a part of this. My decision was made.
Her name was Balady. I almost hoped she had been a senior, so that I could get her number when I came in, but I also hoped I had the chance to play with her. Well, when I saw her play, she was a freshman. Goodbye No. 16. I settled with my basketball number – 13. Balady ended up being my worst nightmare freshman year. There were five of us: McConville, the Miller twins, Allie, and me. McConville was a local. She already knew everyone and I even felt like she was older than me. The Miller twins were the adorable, polite little things who everyone loved. Then there was me and Allie. I was quiet and serious and focused on field hockey. Allie was just shy. Sometimes, I think my seriousness may have come off as something else. I wanted to prove myself to the team, and the only way to do that was to work hard. I didn’t think about how to make friends off the field. I was a freshman, an outsider, and that’s the way it is.
It’s the way it was in high school, too, except I knew all the freshmen in high school and the varsity coach was my gym teacher all through middle school. And still, it was not easy. I was the only freshman to make varsity that year. That was the dream goal. That’s what I wanted, even though it would be fun to play with my class on the freshmen team (Sarah had played for the freshmen team and adored the coach). When I was picked for Varsity, I could have cried I was so excited. I should have been happy, but things got worse. Ms. Decker had these laminated sheets pinned to our lockers with different stickers for different accomplishments during preseason. One day, mine was gone. I figured one of the freshman who were mad at me for making Varsity took it down. Like they thought that I thought I was too good for them. I don’t know. I asked Ms. Decker if I could have another one. “Why?” Because someone tore mine down. “Who?” I don’t know. And that was that. She made me a new one and days later, it was gone again. This went on two or three times. I didn’t feel connected to anyone at this point. The freshmen hated me, except for Cavich, but there wasn’t really anything for her to do about it. And some of these freshmen had been my friends at some point. I couldn’t figure out when I turned into someone they didn’t like. I never really thought of it as bullying, but it sort of was. The upperclassmen only saw me as “the freshman,” so it wasn’t like I had any real friends. All the sophomores were Sarah’s friends – and we didn’t share friends.
One day I was late to practice because I had to stay after school for a class. As I ran out to the field I saw the entire team sitting around the 50. Ms. Decker and the other coaches were talking to them. I thought nothing of it. A little pre-practice pep talk. I ran my lap around the field and by the time I reached the center of the field, I realized Ms. Decker’s speech was about me. About tearing down my sheet. Who knows what she said. I was humiliated. The freshmen hated me even more, and the upperclassmen just felt bad for me. I didn’t want any of it. I should be so excited right now. I just want to play hockey.
College was supposed to be a better start. It wasn’t. Balady was loud, barking orders at everyone all the time, but no one ever seemed to yell at her – even the seniors. I didn’t understand how she could have so much say as a sophomore. I finally realized that everyone was afraid of her. I was. I was completely intimidated. And she was a really good player. And she always gave it her all. Maybe I felt like she came down on me the hardest. Maybe she was nicer to the other freshmen off the field because I didn’t say much. Until one day I did. It was a game early on in the season. I was getting the most time as a freshman, and in this particular game every word out of Balady’s mouth was something about what I was doing wrong. Like I wasn’t nervous enough already. She never had a positive thing to say, ever. I was trying my hardest, and I never could have seen myself talking back to an older player, but then it happened. I snapped. I can’t remember exactly what I said, or maybe I can. I completely stopped playing, turned around and yelled at her. Shut up, Balady.
She was livid. And my head wasn’t in the game anymore. Monica saw the whole thing. We both came out of the game, but she didn’t say anything to us. I don’t remember the score. I only remember the locker room afterwards. She was talking about me loudly to her best friends, Katie and Susan. A lot of “freshman” and “disrespect” and “unacceptable.” I hated that she wasn’t saying anything to me. I kept looking at the seniors, hoping someone would say something, anything, to defend me in the slightest bit. They didn’t say anything against me, but they didn’t say anything against Balady either. They just didn’t say anything.
I’m not kidding when I say I thought about transferring. I was miserable. I felt completely alone. It wasn’t until after the season was over that things started to turn around. Allie and I finally became friends with McConville and the twins. We hung out all through the off-season, and with the rest of the team, too. We finally got to know each other as people instead of as teammates. Balady and I developed a somewhat love-hate relationship. She always made fun of me and I always told her the opposite of what she wanted to hear. She may have been scary, but she was a good person to have as a teammate. She always stuck up for us. She always had our backs.
When I roomed with her, Katie, and Susan sophomore year of preseason, I saw a whole other side to Balady. The silly, funny Balady who loves to have a good time. She always said the same thing to me. “Oh, lighten up, Stetson.” She was probably right – I was on edge way too much. Jamming out to Avril Lavigne and Elvis Presley were two of the biggest highlights of preseason (there aren’t many good things about preseason). During the school year, we always hung out with the team. Of course we didn’t have to, but we did. We all partied together. We were a fun group. My favorite was the keg race we had one spring – field hockey vs. football. Like we stood a chance. Balady told us we were going to win. She made us believe it. She was directing everyone on how to drink faster and making fun of those of us who weren’t drinking fast enough. There was flip cup, beer bongs, keg stands, and I remember a nap in Katie’s bed. I think the football team won.
On the field, we were fiercely competitive. I could never go up against Balady and not try my absolute hardest. I wanted to show her up, which didn’t happen too much. And of course, Monica was always pairing us up. One time in the offseason we were having a fitness practice in the gym. Monica had this little bouncy ball that bounced in all crazy directions. She would throw it and yell two names to run out and try to get it first. “Balady and Stetson.” We sprinted out there like we were going for blood. All the tables were set up on the side of the gym for the basketball game later that night, and that little ball managed to go over the table. The table was our sideline, but it didn’t stop us. We both jumped over the table fighting for this stupid ball. I definitely got it. (That’s how I remember it, at least.) Monica probably rolled her eyes at us, but honestly Monica, what did you think was going to happen?
When Balady graduated, I was relieved to not have her yelling at me on the field. I was looking forward to being a senior and a captain and leading the team. And she came back as an assistant coach. I was deflated. I felt her yelling at me on the sideline during practice, and when she wasn’t yelling I felt her eyes on me. I hoped things would be different with her as my coach, but somehow I still felt small. Senior year wasn’t the greatest. A lot of my teammates didn’t care as much as I wanted them too, but mostly, I blamed Monica. I was very bitter when the season ended. We had our end of the year meeting, and I was honest with her. I told her I was unhappy and things should have been done differently. There really wasn’t much else to say. It wasn’t like we could start the season over.
The following year, Courtney was a sophomore with the Hawks. She let me know that Monica was fired and the assistant, Carly, was taking over as head coach. On stupid impulse, I vented my feelings in an away message on instant messenger. Something like, of course, as soon as I graduate they fire Monica. I was mad. I was still bitter. And I still blamed Monica for my shitty senior year. But I shouldn’t have posted it. I got a nasty message back from Balady and Monahan (another former coach). Balady responded like I had personally attacked her. It wasn’t personal against her or Monica. I told her I liked Monica, but no, she was not the greatest coach. It was then that Balady pretty much wrote me off. Monahan and I conversed through email a while later and it was water under the bridge.
A couple years later, Courtney mentioned Balady because they were coaching a club team together. Is she nice to you? “Yea. She’s awesome.” Really? “Yea, she’s really nice.” I figured Balady would take out her dislike for me on my little sister, but she wasn’t. I was glad, but then hurt a little, like it would have made me feel better if she was mean to Courtney. Then I would have a reason to not like her. Out of curiosity I check her out on fb, and to my surprise, see that we’re not friends anymore. Doesn’t that suck when someone unfriends you? I hadn’t even known. I guess she really doesn’t want anything to do with me.
I think about Balady a lot. It’s a jumble of emotions and thoughts because of the many different stages we had in our relationship. Mostly I feel regret because I don’t hate her. I like her. She was a big part of the reason I went to Monmouth in the first place. We were teammates and friends and I hate how things ended.
McConville texts me Saturday morning that she’s going to Balady’s wedding. Wow, Balady’s getting married. I suddenly decide to send her a message. What the hell, might as well. I tell her congratulations. I tell her that, oddly enough, I think of her often and hope there’s no hard feelings. I tell her that I hope she has an amazing day. I figure she won’t message me back. That she’ll get the message and be like what the hell? Why is Stetson sending me a message? But I’m wrong. She messages me back the next day, when I’m sure she’s extremely busy with her honeymoon and whatnot. I couldn’t have asked for a better response – and I hope if she reads this that she doesn’t mind I’m posting it!
“Stetson, thank you for the kind message. It was an amazing moment in my life yesterday. I have absolutely no hard feelings. You were a great teammate and friend to me. Although we had a difference of opinion about things (which is normal) I still value all the good that you brought into my life at MU.”
It’s strange, but I feel lighter the rest of the day. All this worry and stress over nothing. It feels good to let go of something I’ve been holding onto for so long. I’m happy that I can call Balady a friend. MUFH fo’ life! (insert Balady telling me how much of a dork I am).