Marysville-Pilchuck’s Ballew happy as Crenshaw’s sidekick

Brady Ballew doesn’t seem to mind the relative lack of attention sent his way by opposing defenses because he plays with one of the top strikers in the area. In fact, the Marysville-Pilchuck midfielder relishes the extra space that allows him to punish Western Conference foes.

Ballew, a senior midfielder for the M-P boys soccer team and half of one of the most potent duos in Western Conference boys soccer, has formed a connection with teammate John Crenshaw that has brought huge rewards to the Tomahawks program.

Crenshaw, a senior striker and 2009 All-Area Player of the Year, and Ballew led M-P to an 18-2-2 record, its first district title and a fourth-place finish at the state 4A tournament in 2009.

“It’s always cool being part of a duo,” said Ballew, an All-State selection at midfielder last season. “And playing with somebody of his (Crenshaw) caliber is something you strive for and that’s how you make yourself better — is playing with a guy like John.”

Ballew, who scored 13 goals and had eight assists for the Tomahawks last season, said he ran across some scouting reports last year that targeted Crenshaw, a speedster and lethal finisher with the ball who racked up 21 goals and nine assists in 2009. Consequently, Ballew welcomed the idea that he wouldn’t be a focal point of the defense.

“I kind of get to sit in the background and make things happen on my own which is beneficial to me in every way,” Ballew said. “I can’t complain if he’s getting the spotlight by other teams because that opens doors for my teammates and I.”

Teammates for nearly four years at the high school level and two years at club, Ballew and Crenshaw have a strong connection on the field.

Ballew isn’t afraid of playing a long ball over the top of the defense for Crenshaw and the latter seems to know exactly when Ballew will take it at goal alone.

“Brady always pushes me. I always strive to do as well as him and try to outplay him. He’s a driving force, for sure,” said Crenshaw, a University of Washington signee. “We’ve learned a lot about each other.”

Ballew added: “We’ve kind of figured out each other’s tendencies and that’s always a benefit on the field as far as connecting from here to there. Its always nice to know you can play a 40-yard ball over the top and he’ll go get it and vice versa.”

The duo spends a considerable amount of time practicing together — five nights a week for M-P and three nights a week for club, according to Ballew — which has already paid off for the M-P soccer program.

“(Brady’s) ability to create with the dribble, finish with both his head and his feet, and his speed is what sets him apart from his peers,” M-P head coach Geoff Kittle said.

A traditional box-to-box midfielder — one who will get back and defend, but also press forward in the attack — Ballew puts winning ahead of any personal stats and said Crenshaw is of the same mold.

“To be successful in my mind is to win as a team,” Ballew said. “If I can be part of something on that field that turns out to be successful, by all means I’ll be there.”

“He’s always willing to put in the extra effort to defend and stop the goals as well as go ahead, get up field and score them,” Crenshaw said of his teammate.

This season the Tomahawks will rely heavily on their dynamic pair, but could be in a bit of a bind early in the season as both players recover from injuries.

Crenshaw has a stress fracture in his lower leg and Ballew has possible achilles tendonitis, but both said neither injury should keep them out more than two or three games because there is no way they would miss an early-season tilt against rival Snohomish.

“We have to beat Snohomish,” Crenshaw said.

College Swap

Ballew and Crenshaw were supposed to be teammates at Seattle University next year, but the University of Washington came on as a late suitor and wrangled Crenshaw away from the Redhawks, even after the forward made a verbal commitment.

“I liked what they had to offer more than Seattle U,” Crenshaw said of his decision to decommit. “Either school is a good fit for me, I just thought UW might offer more for me.”

Ballew was understandably bummed about that developments, but said everything “just clicked” at Seattle U.

He is staying put and eager to face the Huskies — who didn’t recruit him — in the 2010-11 season-opening match.

“It was a bit of a downer, but our first game at the collegiate level is actually against each other. … in a way that seems fitting,” Ballew said. “It’ll be really fun to play against those guys.

“That’s fine with me (to not be recruited by UW) because if i can show them in years to come, by all means I’ll prove them wrong.”

Crenshaw added about facing each other: “That’s gonna be huge.”

Club Connections

Playing for the Snohomish United U-18 select team coached by Gary Harris, the father of Shorecrest High’s Gatorade Player of the Year Michael Harris, has paid huge dividends for Ballew and Crenshaw.

Ballew has been with Harris for six years, Crenshaw for the last two.

“Brady’s got everything,” Gary Harris said. “Brady’s got skills, speed, smarts — technically, tactically, everything.”

The U-18 squad recently completed a 16-0 season and captured the U.S. Youth Soccer Washington State Championship with a 2-1 win over Mercer Island’s Eastside F.C.

Crenshaw noted the accomplishment as one of the greatest in his career to-date.

The team will travel to Albuquerque, N.M., in June to take part in a regional competition.

During his time with Harris and the club, Ballew developed a close friendship with Michael Harris, a defender and UW commit, who specializes in front-flip throw-ins.

“Michael and I have kind of formed a funny little bond,” Ballew said, adding that the club teammates spend about four nights a week together and occasionally go to Sounders FC games. “We’ve spent numerous summer days practicing it (flip throw-ins) with me. We started with front handsprings and then we tried it with a ball, but it didn’t really work out for me. He’s a little more athletic than I am, I’ll admit it.”

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