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There are many dual-sport student-athletes in the NCAA’s Division III classification, but few have pulled off the grueling combo Monmouth’s Ezzie Baltierra-Chavez (Denver, Colo./South) did during the fall season.
Technically, the sophomore could be considered a four-sport student-athlete, competing as a member of the indoor track team in the winter and the outdoor team in the spring, all after competing with the cross country and women’s soccer teams in the fall. It’s the latter combination that catches the eye, as Baltierra-Chavez has a daily routine in the fall that begins before 5:30 a.m. and often ends around midnight.
Just a week after earning her first all-conference honor with a seventh-place finish at the Midwest Conference Championships
on Nov. 2, Baltierra-Chavez helped Monmouth’s women’s soccer team earn its first league tournament title and NCAA tournament berth. Reaching that peak in two sports requires exceptional conditioning.
It’s not the first time Baltierra-Chavez has experienced that combination, as she ran cross country at South High School in Denver while also playing on a club soccer team. That experience only partially prepared her for the college combo.
“I had played those two sports at the same time in high school, but college was a whole other level,” said Baltierra-Chavez, who had some concerns. “I originally ran cross country to get in shape for soccer, so those two sports kind of complement each other. I’m much more fit now that ever. College sports is much more demanding than club
and high school. In college, you got recruited for a reason, and although Division III doesn’t award athletic scholarships, there is still that personal commitment you make to your coach and teammates. The coaches worked out a practice schedule for me, with cross country in the morning and soccer in the late afternoon so I had recovery time, but I was worried my body would give out.”
Those fears were put to rest somewhat in her first few practices at Monmouth.
Coming from Denver’s elevation as the Mile High City, Baltierra-Chavez quickly adapted to the prairie altitude of Illinois.
“I couldn’t believe how much air I was getting,” smiled Baltierra-Chavez when describing the acclimation process some 4,500 feet below her home territory. “The problem was the humidity.
It’s not quite this humid in Denver.”
Baltierra-Chavez was also concerned about the academic demands. A communication and political science double major, the sophomore carried a 3.70 GPA through the end of her fall season, a testament to her commitment to academics as well as athletics.
“Academics is always going to be my top priority,” said a determined Baltierra-Chavez. “If my academics were going to go down, that would be an issue for not only me, but my parents. My education was something they really emphasized. They were a little worried that I would be spending too much time on athletics. I’ve always tried to do my best in both, but the academic demand was an adjustment.”
Another concern was her commitment to two programs whose seasons run concurrently.
She was going to have to decide which sport took precedence when there were conflicts.
“The coaches got together and decided which event I would go to when those situations came up,” explained Baltierra-Chavez of the agreement cross country coach Jon Welty and women’s soccer coach Nick Rizzo abided by for the last two seasons. “They looked at what the conference implications were on each conflict and came to a compromise. Fortunately, I didn’t have to miss the conference championships in either sport.”
When it came to the weekend of Nov. 16, the date of the regional competition for NCAA cross country and women’s soccer, there was only one choice – soccer.
“I had been to the cross country regionals as a freshman,” explained Baltierra-Chavez. “That’s something we
compete in every year, but the soccer regionals, who knows when we’ll get back there. I’m glad the coaches agreed where I should be. Both were pretty important in my mind and I didn’t want to have to choose.”
The forward/midfielder made the trip with the soccer team to St. Paul, Minn., where the Fighting Scots fell 1-0 to a ranked St. Thomas team. Baltierra-Chavez played all but 12 minutes of the contest to wrap up her fall seasons.
If not for a combined effort by Welty and Rizzo – who incidentally rents a room at Welty’s home – Baltierra-Chavez might have never experienced the dual-sport role, or even Monmouth College for that matter.
“Coach Welty contacted me first,” said Baltierra-Chavez. “When Coach Rizzo found out I also played soccer, he started recruiting
me, too. They made it easy by making up a schedule for me to be able to do both sports. After that, I thought I’d give it a try.”
So what’s next?
“For cross country, I want to keep getting faster,” said Baltierra-Chavez whose top 10 conference finish this season came a year after she was outside the top 50 as a freshman. “Overall, as a student-athlete my priority is to stay humble. When people come up and congratulate you, it can go to your head and put pressure on you and take away the fun of playing. I want to keep having fun.”
Welty is quick to point out the value the multisport Baltierra-Chavez brings to the table.
“She’s an unbelievably positive-energy person,” praised Welty. “Any workout, run, warm-up, she’s a person that all the women can look
to for the positive in what we’re doing day-in and day-out. I wouldn’t say we’re ‘soft’ without her, but the energy she brings is recognizable. Our hashtag is ‘Trust The Process,’ and for Ezzie, the process is a little different because she’s doing two sports in the same season. Really, that different process is no different than everyone having a different race plan to suit them and play to their strengths.”
Rizzo noted the maturation process for Baltierra-Chavez as a big reason she was able to compete at such a high level in two demanding sports.
“We had a ton of players who were average as freshmen, but became fantastic as sophomores and Ezzie was one of them,” he said. “By the end of the season, other teams knew who she was. Her fitness level was off the charts. I knew
she’d have the same energy level in the last minute that she did in the first. Her biggest change really was in her confidence. We knew she had the ability, it just took her a year to realize it herself.”
An academic all-conference honoree in four sports – cross country, women’s soccer, indoor track and outdoor track – Baltierra-Chavez’s strength also lies in setting lofty goals once she graduates in 2022.
“I’d like to work with nonprofits and immigrants,” said a confident Baltierra-Chavez. “As a first-generation college student, my goal is to create programs for first-gen students. Being a first-gen plays a huge role in who I am. I want to help other first-gens.”
Other students, not just student-athletes, could learn school and life skills from Baltierra-Chavez’s
commitment to demanding pursuits.
“For me, it was all about planning,” she said. “My planner is always with me. Having a structured schedule and sticking to it was crucial. I also had to prioritize so I didn’t let assignments and tests pile up to the point where I had to cram with an all-nighter.”
Baltierra-Chavez was so adept with her balancing act, many of her professors didn’t know just how busy her fall was.
“They knew I had an event and would have to miss class, but I don’t think they realized it was because I was in two sports,” she explained. “When they found out I was doing two sports in one season they were pretty surprised.”
With such a successful first two seasons with Baltierra-Chavez, would Monmouth’s coaches recruit another multisport student-athlete
who competes in the same season?
“Oh, yeah, if they’re good enough,” chuckled Rizzo. “It took Coach Welty and I a year to learn how to schedule her to everyone’s benefit. Neither of us had dealt with that before. It took us that year to achieve that balance and make it a win all the way around, especially for Ezzie. At Monmouth, we want what’s best for the students and I think we found that balance this year.”
Welty agreed with his counterpart, but acknowledges it won’t be an easy path for the ordinary student-athlete to follow.
“I’d like to say ‘Yes,’ based on Ezzie,” said Welty. “She did a fantastic job with her time management, but after being around her, I’ve come to realize she’s a unique individual. It’s not every day you find someone who handles the balance and excels in two sports in the same season and in the classroom. She’s definitely one-of-a-kind.”
***Report Courtesy of Monmouth College***