The Marian University women’s soccer program has taken advantage of a rare type of student-athlete recently by recruiting high schoolers who are home schooled.
The Sabres currently boast three home schooled student-athletes on their roster in Charity Hertel along with sisters Alicia Balken and Jenae Balken. Despite not attending a traditional high school, head coach Jillian Saiberlich says that the recruiting process wasn’t that different. The coaching staff also had a distinct advantage when recruiting Jenae as her sister had already spent two seasons with the program.
“The recruiting process was different with Charity as she only played club soccer so I only watched her play at club events,” commented Saiberlich. “The Balken sisters played in a home school league and played high school soccer for the North Fond du Lac School District. The process wasn’t necessarily much different.”
The trio pointed to the small community feel of Marian along with the opportunity to continue playing soccer as their reasoning to become Sabres.
“I chose to come to Marian because I liked the idea of being able to be close to home and still see my family and friends,” commented Alicia. “I have always been extremely close with my family so going to Marian gave me both the opportunity to branch out and find new friends, as well as keep in touch with my close friends and live at home with my family.”
Jenae added that her decision was impacted by the opportunity to play with Alicia again on the pitch.
“I chose to come to Marian because of the soccer program as well as the small community feel,” commented Hertel. “Since I was home schooled before college, I knew I would want a small school, and Marian was the best option for that.”
When it finally came time to head to Marian, all three had similar responses for what was the hardest part of the transition. The main response was leaving a family they had become so close to, while the other was simply adjusting to a classroom setting.
“I had two main difficulties when trying to transition to college,” commented Hertel. “The first one was in the classroom when it came to giving presentations or talking in class, I never had to do that growing up, so that was hard to get comfortable doing. The second thing that was kind of difficult for me was just the transition of moving away from home. I had lived at home and stayed at home for school my whole life, so transitioning into being on my own was a little difficult at first.”
Despite all the challenges they each faced in the changes from being home schooled, the coaching staff saw that transition as easier in some ways than a traditional high school student-athlete.
“We never really have to worry about them getting it done in the classroom,” commented associate head coach George DeAugustino. “They are all great with time management and are strong academic students. That being said, they all seemed a little nervous the first week of school their freshmen year just because they were never in a true classroom setting before so it was a new challenge. Obviously, they quickly adapted and do very well.”
“With all three ladies, I almost feel like they had the upper hand with the transition from high school to college in the time management department,” added Saiberlich. “Being home schooled, their days were much like a college schedule in terms of having classes at different times throughout the week. All three did a tremendous job right away as freshmen with time management and knowing how to balance classes and the extra ‘free time’ they have.”
They’ve all been able to look forward to soccer at the end of each day as well, which has helped enhance their experience at Marian.
As a freshman, Jenae saw consistent playing time off of the bench scoring one goal with an assist in 14 games played. Her first-career goal came against Knox on the road, while her assist came just one game earlier at home against Ripon.
“Soccer helped me get to know people at Marian really quick,” commented Jenae. “It was nice because I had teammates in some of my classes which made me feel more comfortable in the classroom. Teammates are also like built-in project and homework accountability partners which kept me on track when my schedule got crazy. I have some of my closest friends at Marian because of soccer.”
Alicia has been a strong offensive contributor for the Sabres since she came to Marian in 2017. In 57 games at Marian, she has scored 21 goals with six assists for a total of 48 points putting her currently 20th on the all-time scoring list. She has scored at least five goals in all three of her seasons as a Sabre. In her sophomore season, Alicia scored 11 goals with three multi-goal games, and she closed out the year with six goals in the final six games.
“I think that beating Aurora last season was one of my favorites,” commented Alicia on her favorite memory at Marian. “Also scoring my first goal is something I don’t think I will ever forget. Honestly, there have been so many amazing moments that I could put down but ultimately, it comes down to the fact that we, as a team, are a family. We have each other’s backs and we have fun together.”
Charity has been nothing short of consistent and reliable at Marian starting nearly all of the 36 games she has played in. From the midfield, she has scored four goals, two in each season. Her presence on the pitch, however, goes well beyond the stat sheet.
“I have so many favorite memories at Marian that it’s hard to narrow it down,” commented Hertel. “I have had the opportunity to make many friends here and because of that, I have so many great memories with so many different people. One of my favorite memories was having a recruit stay with me my freshman year and she chose to come to Marian the following year, and she and I have become best friends.”