April 11, 2002
At twenty-one years of age, Jessica Balbuena has an internal focus that has grown and intensified over her four college years in Tallahassee. Jess, as she is referred to by teammates, was born in The Woodlands, Texas in August of 1980. Her father, a former bullfighter from Spain and mother, a past Olympian from Mexico, have been extremely supportive of her athletic endeavors. Jessica was bound to become something special.
After a high school career which included three national doubles titles in tennis and numerous all-state selections in soccer and swimming, Jessica was ready to move on, but wasn’t quite sure where. “My parents didn’t go to college in the US and we weren’t sure how the recruiting process worked. I was getting letters in the mail, but I just procrastinated, I wanted to go to California or Florida.”
FSU Head Coach Lise Gregory spotted Balbuena at the Orange Bowl Tennis Tournament in Miami in December of 1997. “I knew she was very talented. It was late though, normally you sign players a few months before that. She didn’t know anything about FSU. I went to visit with her mother in Texas and I think Jessica felt comfortable with her visit here.”
Her freshman year was a success on the court and in the classroom. Jessica finished third on the team with 27 wins in singles competition and was selected to the All-ACC Academic team, as well as the Deans list. Unfortunately, her relationship with Head Coach Lise Gregory was not going quite as smooth. “My first three years we didn’t get along too well. I think it was because I am so hardheaded. Our relationship has changed a lot.”
Over the course of her sophomore and junior seasons, Balbuena would record 28 singles victories. Her junior year would be the most productive in doubles, combining with teammate Samantha Schoeffel for 15 wins and an ITA ranking of 38th.
It was also during this time that the pressures and stress of college athletics would start to pay a toll on Jessica. “From the middle of February to the end of season is the most nerve racking. I feel tired all year because of practice. Spring is tough, coach is more intense and practices are a little harder. It is emotionally draining.”
Coming into her senior season, Balbuena had distinguished goals. “First, it was to not lose a match. Obviously, that goal wasn’t very realistic, I have already lost a few. My overall goal was to have a good senior year and to try to keep living a college life.”
It wasn’t until earlier this year did she and Coach Gregory develop a working relationship. “I think she was one of those people that wasn’t too quick to trust…. Finally, I do think she trusts me,” said Gregory. “She is just more mature, she now realizes that when I am coaching her I am trying to help.”
“This year, it has been something totally different (with Gregory). She was trying to do the best for me,” Balbuena said. “She is a good coach. She knows a lot about tennis and how to combine it with school.”
Outside of tennis, Jessica enjoys fishing, target shooting and the food at Gordos Restaurant. “I don’t go there much, because I can’t afford it, but I really like their sandwiches.”
Jessica has assumed the role as the team leader on numerous occasions throughout the season. “I never expected her to become such a verbal leader. If you would have told me two years ago she would have stood up and said the things she has, I would have said, never, not Jessica, there is no way she would stand up and say something like that.”
Gregory describes Balbuena’s play as aggressive. “She likes to come to the net. She has very good volleys and likes to control the point. She has a lot of power and controls the game from the baseline.”
A few specific matches highlight Jessica’s tennis career. “As far as competitiveness, my most memorable match was playing against Jessica Lehnhoff of UF, who has since turned pro. I lost in a third set tiebreaker. My most enjoyable match took place when I was 15 and I played my best friend Nicole Rencken (also a pro now). We laughed so much we got kicked off the court. She actually visited me on spring break and brought up that match.”
Looking back at her college tennis career, Jessica feels it has taught her a few important lessons about life. “In general, it has taught me time management. If you don’t have that, you won’t make it through college. I try to go by the mottos, “Everything happens for a reason” and “You only live once”.”
Balbuena has also made great strides on the court. “I have learned to use my feet better and my mental game has definitely matured a lot. I used to get mad and my frustration would take over. Now, I don’t let that happen.”
Jessica Balbuena will definitely leave her mark in the FSU Women’s tennis annuals. She currently ranks in the top ten in numerous statistical categories, which include career singles (76) and doubles victories (69), overall wins (146) and single season dual match victories (21).
Upon graduation and completion of her degree in elementary education, Jessica hopes to land a job teaching. “I plan to work where I can earn the most money, either in Tallahassee, Houston or way up north. I also want to write a children’s educational book, something like the Three Little Pigs.”