High School Sports

Versatile Balderas wins high school award; Lowery claims Bench award

Jake Lowery of James Madison University recieves the Coleman Company-Johnny Bench Award from Johnny Bench for being the National Collegiate Catcher of the Year to close out the Wichita Sports Commission Banquet at the Hyatt Thursday. (June 30, 2011)
Jake Lowery of James Madison University recieves the Coleman Company-Johnny Bench Award from Johnny Bench for being the National Collegiate Catcher of the Year to close out the Wichita Sports Commission Banquet at the Hyatt Thursday. (June 30, 2011) The Wichita Eagle

During Sarah Balderas' four years at Bishop Carroll, she played volleyball, basketball and softball. Playing all three sports year-round at a high level was difficult — it wore on her body and sometimes it created conflicts as she raced from one sport's practice to another.

Thursday night, Balderas was rewarded by being chosen the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission's high school female athlete of the year at the awards banquet at the Hyatt Regency.

"It means all that hard work paid off," said Balderas, a second baseman who helped lead Carroll to the Class 5A softball title in May and will play softball at Newman. "Staying with all three sports was pretty hard, but I made the most of it. And my coaches were really helpful to me, tolerating me being late to some things because of all the activities I had to do."

James Madison's Jake Lowery was honored at the banquet as the Johnny Bench Award winner, which is given to the nation's top catcher.

"Just to be listed is an honor with all the other names, like Buster Posey, Kurt Suzuki, all those guys who are in the major leagues," said Lowery, who has signed with Cleveland after being chosen in the fourth round of the baseball draft. "It's a real honor and you'll have your name down there forever. It's pretty cool."

Lowery led the nation in RBIs (91), runs (80) and total bases (200). He also ranked in the top 10 in home runs (24) and slugging percentage (.797). He threw out 43 percent of runners attempting to steal.

The other finalists were Wichita State's Chris O'Brien and Florida's Mike Zunino.

As for Balderas, there was a time when she considered dropping a sport or two. Many of her friends had done that, choosing to specialize.

"It was really my parents that kept me with it," she said."... My parents were helpful, and they said, 'you should stick with it' because I had been doing it since I was little. It meant a lot to be able to stick with it, and all my coaches were helping me out."

She's not sure what sport she would have specialized in, though, because she enjoyed playing all three. She did say she was most passionate about basketball because of the adrenaline rush.

She's not sure what she'll do only focusing on one sport in college, which is why she has been coaching seventh- and eighth-grade volleyball players and hopes to help out at Carroll.

That Balderas was able to play multiple sports at such a high level — she was an All-City League setter and was second-team all-league in basketball and softball — is impressive considering she weighs all of 122 pounds. She was quick to point out that she has put on five pounds of muscle just this summer.

"Playing sports year round really takes a toll on you," Balderas said."... I'm definitely worn down and I know that I have to take care of myself a lot better than other people because I get worn down so fast. My dad tells me that all the time, that I have to keep drinking water, especially in softball."

* Heights' Evan Wessel, an All-State football and basketball player, was named the Barry Sanders high school male athlete of the year.

* Heights football coach Rick Wheeler won the high school boys coach of the year after leading the Falcons to an undefeated season and the Class 6A title.

* Collegiate basketball coach Terrence Phox won the high school girls coach of the year.

* The college male athlete of the year was Wichita State basketball player Graham Hatch, while Shockers' Tonya Nero won the women's athlete of the year.

* The professional athlete of the year was the Wingnuts' Ryan Patterson.

* The Gene Stephenson coach of the year award went to men's basketball coach Gregg Marshall.

* A special award was given to Bob Hanson, the sports commission's president/CEO, for his role in the Prairie Fire Marathon.

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