Gameday+ | Meet a Buckeye: Andrea Ballinger, women's tennis

Ray Stein The Columbus Dispatch
Andrea Ballinger is the only senior on the women's tennis team this season. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

Andrea Ballinger

Sport: Women’s tennis

Age: 21

Year: Senior

Hometown: Columbus (Columbus Academy)

Major: Spanish and psychology, pre-med track

Question: OK, we have to start with food. I usually get there at some point, but your Twitter cover photo — a close-up of French fries — begs the question: What is up?

Answer: I don’t really remember what my header was before, but one day I was inspired to change it to something I love and that happened to be French fries.

Q: Of course homemade are the best, but where do you go for fries that you can’t stop eating?

A: I’m obsessed with Chick-fil-A fries. They never disappoint me.

Q: What about potatoes in general? Are you like me and believe there is no such thing as a bad-tasting potato?

A: I’m going to agree with you on this one. I will literally eat any potato. At least I’m getting a healthy dose of starch in my diet.

Q: Please rank these in order of your preference: Au gratin, baked, French fried, hash browns, mashed, potato chips, potato salad.

A: Wow, I really had to put some thought into the top four. 1. French fried; 2. mashed; 3. au gratin; 4. hash browns; 5. baked; 6. potato chips; 7. potato salad.

Q: Back to Twitter: Your bio mentions a “love-hate relationship with carbs.” Do tell.

A: I love carbs — pasta, bread, potatoes, you name it — but I had to learn to find a happy medium because I also love being fit and in shape. It’s difficult, because my fitness is just as important as, say, my baguette from Panera or my impulse French fry purchase and it’s hard to make them go hand in hand. That’s where the love-hate takes place. I admire the people who are gluten free by choice because I don’t think I could ever willingly give up all of my favorite carbs. I have, however, learned to exercise control, so that helps.

Q: Is this battle a lifelong thing, or something you’ve taken on since you got to college?

A: This is definitely a lifelong thing. In preschool during naptime when the other kids were asleep my favorite teacher would ask me where I wanted fries from and wherever I said, that’s where she would get her lunch for the day. Other times my mom would make dinner and I would eat whatever she cooked and then afterward ask my dad to make me fries. He would always say something along the lines of me not needing the fries but he would always make them. Such a good father.

Q: Let’s talk more about college life, specifically this statement: There are plenty of hours in the day to get done what I need. True or false?

A: Oh, this is absolutely false. I think any college student would agree with me. I feel like I never have enough time to get anything done. My days and nights are always running together. At this rate I need there to be at least 30 hours in a day.

Q: What is harder to deal with, the academics or the athletics?

A: Definitely academics. If I didn’t play a sport it would be fine, but adding the time commitment of athletics makes school extra challenging. There are intangibles like scheduling classes around practice, or not being able to take certain classes in season because you’re going to miss a ton of Friday lectures, or having to meet specific NCAA requirements. Having a double major and completing the pre-med pre-reqs are a challenge, so there are definitely a lot of late nights finishing homework, studying and just in general trying to stay on top of things.

Q: Besides being a student and an athlete, do you have a job, as well?

A: I do not have a job I get paid for but I do work in two research labs. One of the labs I work in focuses on stereotypes and prejudice. There are a lot of mini projects that range from research on ingroups and outgroups, to women in science. My second lab is a cognitive development lab working on pattern recognition and how to best teach preschool-age children these recognition skills for later use in mathematics.

I don’t know where I would have time to fit a job in my schedule with tennis, school, research, my commitment to my sorority (Alpha Kappa Alpha) and the other student organizations I am involved in. I think all of my extracurricular activities add up to a full time job, plus overtime.

Q: In general, how do you cope with the stresses of college?

A: When I lived in dorms I used to go to the music room and lock myself away and play the piano. That was always relaxing. Now that I live off-campus, pianos are not as easily accessible (unless I go home), so I turn to writing a lot. “The Office” always helps whenever I need a bit of comedic relief. Depending on how stressed out I am, I may make an occasional French fry run.

Q: Has it been helpful to have your family here in town?

A: It has been. I grew up an only child and it definitely shows sometimes. I’m kind of spoiled in that if I need food and don’t have time to cook, my parents will bring me food or groceries. If I don’t have time to do laundry, I can just drop it off at home and not have that to worry about it. It’s super nice to have my parents here, especially if I get stressed out at school, need to talk or just miss them.

Q: You once described yourself, in a Dispatch article, as a mama’s girl. Is that still the case?

A: That is definitely still the case. I’m always calling my mom for advice or to just tell her about my day. Her opinion and guidance mean a lot to me. She’s a wise woman and is always there to share a bit of her wisdom with me. I do believe we have gotten even closer as I’ve gotten older and I’m thankful to have such a strong relationship with my mom.

Q: And your father, Andre, was a football player at Youngstown State? Does he help you deal with the athletics side or in other ways?

A: My dad is very competitive, so he loves having me play a sport and being able to help me with tennis. He’s encouraging and always willing to work out with me or help me with a lift. He’ll send me random notes on things I could improve or tennis videos he found. All in all, he’s invested in me doing well and has always supported my tennis career. I think he gets what it takes to be a college athlete so he just tries to be there for extra motivation and encouragement.

Q: On to tennis! I know from Twitter that you’re a big Serena Williams fan; were you more disappointed or angry about the way she lost the U.S. Open final?

A: I was more disappointed in the entire situation. One, I was disappointed that Serena lost but also in how she lost. It was just a series of unfortunate events. I don’t think I have ever seen a referee give a player a game penalty, not even in juniors. Everyone gets point penalties but for it to escalate that far — I was shocked.

I do think Serena was justified in defending herself that she was not cheating; it’s not like she said anything bad. As Serena said, other players have done much worse. The game penalty was just so excessive, especially for a finals. I did feel bad for Naomi Osaka. She didn’t deserve to have one of the biggest moments of her life tainted because of that situation.

In general people either love Serena or hate her so the situation was going to be blown out of proportion by public opinion either way.

Q: Do you think Serena misunderstood that she received a code violation for getting “coached,” which led to a point penalty after smashing her racket?

A: I definitely think she misunderstood receiving the initial code violation. I was watching everything and rewinding the television and missed it. There’s no way she could have picked up on that in real time. It was just a lot going on in the moment.

Q: How do you deal with anger on the tennis court?

A: This is a very good question. I really don’t show a lot of emotion on court. It has never really been my thing. College tennis forces you to be loud and get amped up so I’ve had to learn to be loud in a more positive manner, but I typically internalize any anger or negativity. It takes a lot for me to finally yell.

Q: Besides Serena, what other tennis players do you admire?

A: Rafael Nadal is the love of my life. He always has been. This is embarrassing but I used to have 18 rotating pictures of him for my computer wallpaper. I also once wrote a small op-ed on my love for him. It was a pretty good paper if I do say so myself. But in all seriousness he is a phenomenal player. You can really tell how much he loves the sport by the way he plays. I love watching his interviews and seeing how humble and down-to-earth he is. He’s such a likable person.

Q: Your OSU bio indicates you have an interest in poetry; has that always been the case, or something you’ve discovered in college?

A: I’ve always loved poetry. We did a lot of poetry projects in middle school classes and that kick-started my love of poetry. I’ve always loved writing in general and just being creative through written expression, but poetry always seemed more fitting for whatever I was trying to express. I used to take my poetry journals with me during team trips but my bookbag started to get a bit crowded. Now I write my poems on my phone. I’ll be in random place and inspiration will strike and I start writing. It really is therapeutic. It’s rewarding when you have the finished product and can go, “Wow, I really wrote that.”

Q: Do you have a favorite poem?

A: “Life Is Fine” by Langston Hughes is one of my favorites. In general I love reading poems by Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni.

Q: How does it feel to be the senior member — and the only senior — on your college team? Does it feel like the time has gone fast?

A: It was weird at first. There have always been multiple seniors on the team so I never thought about being the sole senior member. I do feel as a senior that I have a lot more responsibility, especially with us having four new freshmen and a couple sophomores. My role is to make sure they’re acclimated to the team atmosphere and culture to make sure that they are enjoying themselves.

Q: What’s on tap for you after school? Do you plan to stay around Columbus? You know, we never run out of potatoes here.

A: I am currently in the process of planning what I would like to do post-graduation. I plan to take a fifth year to finish my Spanish degree and the rest of my pre-med prerequisites. I do want to take a gap year before medical school. It would be a dream of mine to be accepted into OSU’s College of Medicine and stay in Columbus when the time comes.


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