From Highlander to Mountaineer
Destiney Balser’s best year of high school volleyball came to a close with yet another highlight Saturday, as the Gatlinburg-Pittman senior inked paperwork to continue her career at Berea College.
Balser, who won District 3-AA’s Player of the Year honors in 2012 while pushing G-P to its first district title, signed with the Lady Mountaineers during a brief ceremony at the Sevierville Events Center during a break in the action at the Wilderness at the Smokies/K2 Volleyball tournament on Saturday — where she was playing with her travel team, the K2 Elite 18.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve always wanted to play college sports,” Balser said. “At first I thought it would be basketball, but then I got into volleyball, and I stuck with it.
“This year has been amazing, winning district for the first time (with the Lady Highlanders) and getting all of the accolades that I got were very important to me, and then of course playing with my (K2) team again is so much fun, and our coach (Chris Hames) is amazing.”
Choosing Berea as a landing spot for her college career wasn’t hard, espcially after experiencing the school and her future teammates.
“I wasn’t looking at Berea at first, but somebody had mentioned it and that it was a good program, so I looked into it,” Balser said. “I started talking with them, and the big thing for me, why I chose Berea was, when I went there a few weeks ago (the coach) wasn’t on campus. He talked to his volleyball players and said they had a recruit on campus. The captain came and ate breakfast with me and made me feel welcomed. And the campus was beautiful, gorgeous. I fell in love right then and there.”
The Lady Mountaineers will get a leader in Balser.
GPHS coach Conchita Johnson, who’s been at the helm of the team since Balser’s sophomore year, said that may be Balser’s greatest attribute.
“Even as a sophomore she was a leader on the team, because she led with her desire to win and desire to work hard,” Johnson said. “And She’s been one that’s put the time in, year-round (to get better), and she’s influenced the other kids on the team to work really hard as well.
“I’m sure that without her, we wouldn’t have gone as far as we did this year. She’s just been valuable in many, many ways to our team.
Johnson, who’s athletic background is mainly in basketball, said it’s Balser’s passion for volleyball that’s helped her understanding of the sport.
“I clearly am not a volleyball coach,” Johnson said. “She’s helped me, and her dad has helped me a lot, too, to learn a lot about the game. They’ve been really good and patient with me.”
Sharing a few of her favorite moments as a Lady Highlander, Balser recalled a funny memory of Johnson’s fiery coaching.
“One of my favorite (moments) — I think it was in my sophomore year — we were doing something in practice or a game that we weren’t supposed to be doing, and Coach Johnson said, ‘I’m getting ready to lose my religion.’ It was the best, it was hilarious,” Balser said. “And this year my best memory was our last home game as seniors. We had been down all three games against Gibbs, and we came back and won the whole thing. And then the best part was winning the district championship against Gibbs.
“It was amazing, our coach was great, and this year it came full-blast and we were ready to win. It was so much fun this year.”
“We all thought it was kind of special to win (district) for her, because she’s really put the time in,” Johnson said. “She just gets out there and works so hard, and pulls (the players) together, and gets the best out of them. It’s going to be impossible to replace her next year, we really hate to lose her, but we’re thrilled to death that she gets to go on and play.”
Balser’s chance with NAIA Berea will be a special experience.
The Lady Mountaineers are a relative newcomer to NAIA volleyball, as this coming year will be just the team’s third as a varsity sport.
Balser will enter as part of just the second class for Berean coach Conan Brooks, who helped start the program.
“We’re just building the team. Last year we had 10 freshmen, six players from pretty good club teams,” Brooks said. “But I’d say Destiney is coming from the biggest club teams that’s had a player come to Berea.
“She had good grades, all of the coaches have said really positive things about her, and I really like her intensity, and she has setting experience, which is a plus. She’s a great kid.”