GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Last weekend, the National Women’s Soccer League became the first league in the United States to return to play since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Bethany Balcer, a Hudsonville, Mich. native and reigning NWSL rookie of the year says she thinks there’s a lot of pride in returning to the field.
“I know we were all excited when the plans came out about this tournament that we’re doing. I think it’s exciting that it’s a women’s league that’s the first league back,” Balcer said. “I think it’s an incredible opportunity for us and for people to see that there’s a league and that we can just provide that fun that people have been missing out, on sports.”
The NWSL is hosting a monthlong tournament in Utah, with preliminary round pool play and then an Olympic-like quarterfinal knockout round. The league has also given players the freedom of expression, regarding social issues.
“I think a lot of our teams in this league have taken a lot of pride in it,” Balcer said. “It’s been cool, the conversations we’ve had amongst our team in particular. I think it’s really cool the unity our league shares. Those Black Lives Matter shirts were given to us by the league. I think there’s a lot of power in unity that we’ve been able to show.”
The challenge cup opener drew record TV ratings for the league, up 200% from the previous high.
“Those numbers were really exciting to see,” Balcer said. “The fact that that many people were watching, I think, shows that people just love sports, regardless of what sport it is. What gender it is.”
Balcer went undrafted out of Spring Arbor University, yet then won rookie-of-the-year honors last season. She called it “a big whirlwind.”
“It happened so fast, so it’s been cool being back here, going through a pre-season for the second time, playing my first game of my second season,” she said. “It’s crazy, just the growth I had last year, where I was and where I am now.”
Balcer said she still likes to take it all in.
“I’m still here. I made it, somehow,” she said. “But now it’s kind of the next step. Where can I go from here? How can I continue to grow now that I’m in the league and I’ve established myself?”
Some believe the Olympics could be next.