Glenelg senior shortstop Leah Allen has to go way back to recall her first memory with a bat in her hand.
When she was 2 years old, Allen would go to the backyard with her father, Harold, and play with a Wiffle ball and bat. She signed up for an organized softball league as soon as she was old enough.
A four-year starter, two-year captain and returning All-Metro first-team selection, Allen is the do-it-all catalyst who has led the No. 2 Gladiators to an 9-0 record so far this season. She is batting .425 with 15 RBIs, 13 runs scored, seven stolen bases and three home runs — giving her a program-best 16 in her career.
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Last season, Allen led the team in 12 offensive categories, including batting average (.526), runs (32), RBIs (25), stolen bases (22) and home runs (seven).
Maintaining a 4.0 grade point average, Allen has committed to play softball at Pennsylvania after originally planning to go to Kent State. In addition to playing for the Gladiators, Allen also has been a longtime member of the Jersey Inferno (N.J.) club team, which plays in tournaments all over the country.
At Glenelg, she's a member of the National Honor Society, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and helped start the Gladiators on the Horizon mentorship program.
How hungry is the team to win a state title?
We are all so hungry for it. My freshman year, we got to the state semifinals and that's the closest we've been. So this year, it's just keeping up the drive and intensity we have to get us there. I think we can do it.
How did you develop your understanding of the game?
I think just studying it from such a young age helped me. We go to baseball games, and it's a little different, but you still can learn things from that. I go to college [softball] games almost every weekend — we're down at University of Maryland watching them a lot. So I think studying the game and, not only playing, but watching others and learning from them, too, definitely helps.
What makes a strong leader?
Being able to vocalize. If there's an issue, just being able to communicate with someone. It's also representing your team, being a model for the rest of the players. Not just physically be the model, making the plays, but also being able to be there for your teammates. You're picking them up if they make an error, or if you make an error, you let it roll off and always keep a positive attitude.
How has the dedication and discipline you've had playing softball helped you in other areas of your life?
In softball, I used to get really down on myself if I made an error and it would keep spiraling. But I think it was when I was in eighth grade that I realized stuff is going to happen and you can't let it affect you in other aspects. So now, if something happens, I just let it kind of roll off. I understand stuff happens and that I can move on and be OK. It's definitely taught me to focus hard on what I want to do and commit to what I'm doing. It is time consuming, so it makes me realize my priorities. I can't go hang out with my friends all the time, but, in turn, I'm going to a good school and getting a good education, so it's made me more dedicated to everything in general.
How beneficial has it been to play with the Jersey Inferno club team?
It's hard waking up at 6 on a Sunday morning and driving three hours for a two-hour practice, but it's worth it because it's made me a better player. I've been exposed to so many different people and coaches and had so many opportunities playing on the team. I love it. Every three-hour drive has been worth it.
When did you decide on Penn over Kent State?
It came up over the summer. I really liked how Kent was, but to have a chance to play at an Ivy League school and get an education like that, it was just something I couldn't pass up.
What is the Gladiators on the Horizon mentorship program?
Basically, any new student that comes to Glenelg, we set them up with a person who has similar interests to help get them through. You have someone there to talk to when you first come to a new school, so it's a nice thing to have.
How did the program get started?
We were talking one day about the adjustment to high school and how hard it is on some people. I was telling someone that I had a senior that I was friends with when I came in as a freshman, so it was nice having an upperclassman there to help me get used to school and everything. So we thought, why doesn't everyone get to have that? So we thought, what if we matched people up when they first came to school? They would have designated mentors. It's just nice knowing that my freshman year I had someone, and I can be that someone now for somebody new.