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CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. -- Whitney Ballinger just keeps adding awards to her record setting basketball season. She followed up her Mid-South Conference Player of the Year award with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletic’s highest individual honor — the Russel Athletics/WBCA Player of the Year award.
Ballinger was presented the award by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Tuesday night in Jackson, Tenn. at a banquet that precedes the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Tournament. Ballinger and her teammates will take on LSU-Shreveport Wednesday morning at 10:15 a.m. EDT.
She grew up in a neighborhood overpopulated by boys. So, if she didn’t have a basketball in her hands she may have been gripping a tennis racket or a golf club.
That Carrollton, Ky. neighborhood must have been a good training ground because the 6-foot-3 junior has made a place for herself, and her team, in Campbellsville Lady Tiger lore.
So far, Ballinger has played 66 games in a Lady Tiger uniform the past two years. Over the past month, she has passed three statistical milestones this season, as she enters the national tournament with 1,201 points, 686 rebounds and 233 blocks.
Ballinger’s 1,000th point game came Feb. 6 on a late free throw in a win over Georgetown College. On Feb. 11, she became the second CU player to reach 200 blocks and the first women’s basketball player to reach the milestone in the Mid-South Conference. She picked up career rebound No. 600 early in CU’s 79-67 win at the University of Rio Grande on Feb. 13.
As if that’s not enough, Ballinger also recorded a triple-double in that Feb. 13 win with 29 points, 13 rebounds and a CU single-game record 10 blocks. She was the first Lady Tiger to record a triple double since current CU head coach Ginger High Colvin did so in 1990 with 22 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
“Three years ago I thought I signed a pretty good group of players,” said Colvin. “I watched our first recruiting class and then saw Whitney in an All-Star game and said: ‘Wow, if I just had that kid. What an impact she could be on our level.’”
Ballinger signed with Western Kentucky University the summer before her senior year and played 31 of 34 games in the Lady Hilltopper’s 2007-08 season, averaging 2.9 points and 2.2 rebounds a game.
“I was getting 10 to 15 minutes a game,” Ballinger said.
Despite a big game against Notre Dame in the Preseason NIT, she wasn’t happy. When she started looking for a place to play for the last three years of her college eligibility, she looked at Campbellsville.
“My family was really close with (former player) Allison Baker,” said Ballinger. “I visited and I thought I would fit in with the team here better than anyplace else.”
So, with Colvin’s wish answered from that March evening watching All-Stars, Ballinger has fit right in just the way she dreamed she would. Ballinger says her teammates make her better, and she makes them better.
“It’s a give-give,” offered Ballinger. “Opponents have to choose. Do they double me? If they do, then they have a bunch of other weapons to deal with.”
Her coach agrees.
“She has a tremendous supporting cast. She just settled in this year. She can play every position on the floor and play them all well.”
Colvin thinks Ballinger’s success has been as much off the floor as it has been on. She posted one “B” her freshman year at WKU and since then her classroom work has been perfect - all A’s. Ballinger is majoring in math and secondary education.
“She’s just a neat kid to be around,” said Colvin. “This is fun group. They’re so different in so many ways, but they’re so much fun to be around and to coach.”
If Ballinger has an Achilles’ heel, it could be her free throw shooting where she’s canning only 63 percent of her charity tosses.
“Oh good day,” said Colvin. “She’s a better shooter than that. She was in foul trouble a lot early in the season and I think it got her off her game a little bit, but she’s been big in big games.”
On a two-game New Year’s trip to New Orleans, Ballinger hit two free throws with just a couple of ticks on the clock to squeeze out a one-point win over Xavier University.
“We’re not just a one-player team, but Whitney has certainly helped us get better,” said Colvin, whose roster includes numerous former All-Stars and Region Players of the Year.
To prove her point, Colvin looks no farther than junior Courtney Danis, who could reach 1,500 points this season.
“When Courtney came to Campbellsville she immediately averaged 25 points a game in conference.”
Danis reached the 1,000-point milestone during the later part of her sophomore year. On top of that, Danis and guards Melly Heaton, Wendi Messer, T.J. Thomas and Mackenzie Lee have combined for 216 3-pointers this year.
“Everybody in the league has to honor that kind of output, and that just opens things up for Whitney and everyone else. Melly, Wendi and Mackenzie all have to be guarded.”
With her individual stats making her one of the best to ever wear a CU uniform, Ballinger hasn’t lost sight of her team’s goals - win the Mid-South regular season, win the MSC Tournament and have a strong showing in the national tournament. The second goal didn’t quite work out, despite a 34-point performance from Ballinger in a 73-68 MSC title game loss March 6. But Ballinger and her team are now focused on the national tournament, hoping for at least the program’s first run to the NAIA Fab Four.
“We just can’t get comfortable with what we have done so far,” said Ballinger, sounding a bit like her coach. “What we’ve done so far aren’t the big pieces, these are little pieces that we hope will get us to the big prize.”
If Ballinger gets her wish, maybe someone will call a reunion of those Carrollton neighborhood boys. They can surely take some pride in the Lady Tigers’ success and might even try to argue that Ballinger’s success somehow had something to do with the hard knocks delivered in the neighborhood driveways.