On February 19 and 22, Marelly Balentina, a master’s student in Regent University’s Robertson School of Government, competed in two soccer games for her home country of Curacao in the CONCACAF W Qualifiers. Although her young team lost both games, they are focused on training to compete in an additional two games in April, in hopes of securing a third-place ranking for the sport. Balentina only joined the Regent’s women’s soccer team in 2020 as a secondary sport off-season, making her journey to CONCACAF W Qualifiers more exceptional. Her primary sport is javelin throwing, and she is a top athlete for the Regent Royals Women’s Track & Field team.
About CONCACAF W Qualifiers
The W Qualifiers is an international football (soccer) tournament played by women’s national teams that are members of CONCACAF. The Qualifiers are organized in six groups of five teams that each play four games during February and April. The top finisher from each group advances to the 2022 CONCACAF W Championship. The top two teams from the Championship will play in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Balentina was invited to play goalie for Curacao in the CONCACAF W Qualifiers after the coach viewed a livestreamed soccer game of Regent University vs. Bob Jones University from Fall 2021. Balentina shared that she was not intentionally trying to gain national recognition; the potential for such attention had not been on her radar.
However, once the game was published on Facebook, it was shared several times, and the film was eventually seen by a player on the Curacao Women’s football team who shared it with her coach. The coach then reached out to Dr. Samual Botta, Regent’s Athletic Director, on January 24, 2022, to inquire if Balentina could play for the team. Botta was excited about the opportunity and immediately agreed.
The Journey to Competing in Two Sports
The chain of events came as a surprise since Balentina began her soccer career only a year ago here at Regent. She originally came to the U.S. on a full track and field scholarship with Jacksonville State University in Alabama before transferring to compete for Regent in her junior year. Her senior year coincided with COVID-19, canceling her final track season; her scholarship was extended through Fall 2020.
Since her track season was canceled, Balentina decided to play for fun on the Regent soccer team during Fall 2020, but the soccer season was also canceled. Though she played no competitive games that season, Balentina continued to train with the soccer team to begin learning the sport. She graduated with her B.S. in criminal justice that December.
Still desiring to play a final season in Regent athletics, Balentina decided to pursue her master’s and remain on the track and field team, but the Spring 2021 season was canceled again. At this point, Balentina was discouraged and questioning her choices, feeling like she was pursuing a hopeless dream.
She gave her college athletic aspirations one more attempt when she chose to continue with her master’s in Fall 2021 and play on the soccer team one more time in the hopes of finishing a season. This past season was the first time Balentina ever played goalie and competed in an official college soccer game. During this season, she played the Bob Jones game that caught the attention of the Curacao team.
Balentina flew out on February 13, 2022, a week before her two matches, to participate in an intensive training camp with the entire team. During this time, she was excited to see how the girls would all come together to represent their country in such a prominent event. She shared that after officially joining the Regent soccer team only a year prior, she was not especially nervous about working with the new CONCACAF team. Her Regent experience prepared her for it. Balentina believes the key to team connection is communication: “When you’re on the field, you’ve got to communicate what needs to happen on the field.”
Balentina also shared that she is excited not only to play for her nation but to shine a light on the value of Regent Royals athletics. She understands that her actions and attitude reflect Regent and ultimately Christ and is thrilled to be entrusted with such a responsibility.
She believes that one of the biggest ways she can reflect Christ and Regent well is by “winning with character,” the Regent Royals motto that the athletic department has instilled in their athletes. Balentina’s goal is to love winning but to love people more.
“This opportunity has been life-changing, and I will approach soccer with a different mindset now because I have a taste of what it feels like to be on this highly competitive level,” Balentina said. “It has inspired me to work harder because the top is truly within reach. I hope to one day to represent Curacao at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.”
Balentina is currently in her final year of Regent’s National Security program. Upon graduation, she plans to work with Opportunities to Better Tomorrow for a year before continuing in academia to earn a doctorate in forensic science.