Winning for coach
Huskies defeat Eagle Valley as head coach returns to sidelines
When Battle Mountain faces Eagle Valley in anything, the stakes are high. When your coach is returning from a near death experience — that took place on the sidelines of a game — the weight of the contest takes on new meaning.
Battle Mountain coach Mat Ballay, who was life-flighted to Denver for open-heart surgery after his aorta valve failed 45 minutes before the start of the team’s April 8 loss to Aspen, returned to the sideline Monday to witness his athletes race to a 12-6 win over Eagle Valley in Edwards.
“You know it’s really motivating and encouraging for all of us because he brings the team together — he makes us the team that we are,” said senior Marley Lindner of what it was like to see Ballay return to the sidelines.
“Without him, it’s a different game, a different team, but with him, everything comes together. It’s an amazing feeling. We absolutely love having him here, and it makes us so happy. We are so grateful for him.”
Lindner said the whole team was talking before the game, eager and hoping for their coach to return.
“Behind the rivalry in everyones’ heads, everybody’s like, ‘oh is Ballay coming,’ and when everyone heard that he’s here, they were so excited,” the senior remarked with a smile.
Lindner started the scoring off at the 21:05 mark, but Sienna Rinn responded immediately to tie things up. Abby Dembeck, whose explosive acceleration attacking the goal was on full display all evening, juked into the middle of the field and got right up to the crease for an easy score two minutes later.
Thirty seconds after that, Alexandra Dienst put the Huskies up 3-1 and then lofted a nice pass to a streaking Carter Youngblood to make it 4-1.
C.J. Yurcak scored off a penalty shot, but Dembeck made her presence known again with a score 35 seconds later.
At halftime, it was 8-3, which is where the score stayed for the next 12 minutes of action before Kristen Lodge put the Devils back on the board. Dienst responded again, making it 9-4 en route to a four-goal run that all but ended any hope of an Eagle Valley rally.
The scoreboard, however, felt secondary.
“All things considered, I’m feeling pretty good. I’m happy to be out here and do a little coaching,” a smiling Ballay said afterward.
Ballay, who was not expected to return to the classroom, returned to help out coaching last Friday and is looking to start working with his advanced placement classes next week.
“If my heart can handle it and my energy levels can handle it, then I’m going to try and finish out the year in the building,” he said, admitting that he’s antsy to get back into the normal rhythm in accordance with the doctors’ orders.
He has to run his blood pressure every 5-6 minutes. “If it gets above a certain point, I sit down and start doing breathing techniques to bring it down, and it worked well in this game, so I’m enthused by that,” he said with a chuckle.
When he arrived at halftime, his team presented a bouquet of flowers to their coach.
“I’m pretty impressed with this group and flattered by all the love I’m getting from them,” he said.
“I have a lot of respect and admiration for this squad. They’re a really resilient group who responds so well to adversity, and they’ve really come together well as a team. I’m really impressed with them.”
Lindner said the team pulled together the last month without their coach, motivated by his example of rising above.
“We did it for him,” the senior said. “That’s what pushed us and brought us together.”
“Knowing that he survived what he survived and the fact that he could do that — we know we have the power to do what we want,” she continued.
“It definitely makes you look at your life and be grateful for every second of it. Anything can be taken at any time.”
Ballay said he’s kept a watchful eye on his team’s standing through the recovery. With the playoffs beginning next week, they’re hoping to win out and claim a top-eight seed, which would come with a first round bye.
“We’re just going into it with our heads up and anything can happen,” Lindner said. “Going in with the intent of course to win, but take it game-by-game.”
The win improved the Huskies record to 9-2; their only two losses this season have been at Aspen’s expense. Aspen is No. 5 in the latest RPI rankings with Battle Mountain at No. 6.
Everything that has happened has taught the team an important lesson.
“It shows us to live in the present, be grateful for what we have and you know we are grateful for this team and to have him,” Lindner said.