Former first baseman Ava Leffel thrives at center for Highland. “She’s the best outfielder we’ve had in a while.” – Chicago Tribune

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Ava Leffel laughs at that thought.

The Highland senior center fielder said there was a running joke between her and coach Kristina Sides about Leffel returning to first base, the position where she spent the early stages of her softball career.

“That wouldn’t be good,” Leffel said. “If I played anywhere else, I would feel uncomfortable.”

But Leffel has been pretty comfortable this season playing in center field and hitting in the middle of Highland’s lineup. In 12 games, she led the Trojans (5-7) with a .500 batting average and was second on the team with four doubles, 11 runs and seven RBIs.

“I just try to keep in touch and do as many things as possible to make sure our team wins as many games as possible,” Leffel said.

She said there are two reasons why she was placed at first base when she started playing travel ball at the age of 9.

“I was left-handed and was slower when I was younger,” she said. “So I never had the speed to be in the outfield.”

When Leffel arrived in high school, she was convinced she could break into college training as a freshman. But the Trojans already had senior Carley Ramirez playing first base, which meant Leffel was sent to left field.

“I opposed it at first,” she said. “I was a bit scared because I had always thought of myself as slower. But I think I managed to make it work, not necessarily because of my speed but because of the way I read the ball.

Sides, who is in his fifth year with the program and his second as head coach, said there’s another reason Leffel has thrived in the outfield.

“His arm is amazing,” Sides said. “It felt like we wasted his arm on first base.”

Leffel stayed in left field as a rookie and batted .338, finishing third on the team in hits (27) and runs scored (23). After his second season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Leffel moved to center ground last year. This transition also required patience.

“It was very intimidating and I was a little nervous at first because I had never played there in a game, and doing that during high school softball was very nerve-wracking,” he said. she declared. “I was uncomfortable in the first two games, but then I settled in.”

She’s back in center field this season.

“I’m glad she adapted well because she’s the best outfielder we’ve had in a while,” Sides said.

As for his strike, Leffel did not give a precise explanation for his success this season. It reached .347 last year.

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“For some reason, I just make more contacts than I have,” she said.

His mother, Cherree, who played on the first Highland softball team before graduating in 1987, said she thought Leffel was selling herself short by not detailing the amount of work she had done during the offseason.

This also applies to another part of Leffel’s life: his active role in the Highland community.

Leffel is the president of the Highland Key Club, which organizes several fundraisers, including a monthly fundraiser for a local food bank. The club raised approximately $1,800 for Riley’s Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis this school year through “Miracle Minute” campaigns. Club members collected donations for 60 seconds during half-time at Highland sporting events.

This passion for community involvement is part of the reason softball won’t be on Leffel’s schedule when she goes to college. She will attend Purdue.

“It’s just something rooted in her,” Cherree Leffel said. “She wanted to have more time to do her volunteer work. That’s what she likes.”

Dave Melton is a freelance journalist for the Post-Tribune.

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