Q&A: OSU catcher Erika Leonard

Ohio State softball catcher Erika Leonard's college career began in Tallahassee, Fla., but an injury brought her back to her home state. Her breakout season in 2015 ended with 15 home runs and a Big Ten record.

Ohio State softball catcher Erika Leonard led the Buckeyes in batting average (.414), home runs (15) and RBI (60) during a breakout junior campaign that included a Big Ten-record 37 RBI in conference games only. The Cincinnati native sat down with BSB to discuss her impressive junior season as well as her transfer from Florida State and the challenges of playing catcher at the Division I level.

BSB: When did you start playing softball?
Leonard: “My parents started me out with the whole T-ball thing and so I was playing when I was like five years old. I played all kinds of different sports during grade school, and once I got to eighth grade I told my parents this is what I wanted to do and softball is where I wanted to go with my life and I wanted to get into a Division I school. That’s kind of how it all started for me.”

BSB: What did you choose Florida State and what led you to come back to Ohio in 2013?
Leonard: “I chose Florida State because it was a really exciting place. I loved the school and the coaches were really great when I went there. At the beginning of my sophomore year I tore my labrum. After being out of the game for an entire year, I realized being close to my family was something that was really important to me. My injury was one that I wasn’t supposed to come back from, so if that was the path I was going to be dealt I knew I’d need a lot of support and wanted to be around my family during that time.”

BSB: What’s it like to get used to a new set of teammates and coaches?
Leonard: “It’s definitely different. I actually went through it quite a lot when I was younger just going to different teams. It’s definitely fun, kind of like you’re a freshman all over again. You get to experience new and different things. I loved every part of it. I loved getting to know girls and getting a feel for the coaches. Overall, it was a great experience for me.”

BSB: How would you describe what it’s like to be a catcher in college softball?
Leonard: “You definitely have to be versatile. Working with my coach has been great for me, just getting in there and meeting with her and talking about different players and what we’re going to throw in games. The mental side of it is huge when it comes to catching. It’s not just being able to catch the ball and knowing certain situations. You have to have a really good relationship with your pitching staff, and it’s just a whole different level when you have to call it. There’s so much more to it than just catching the ball.”

BSB: To what do you attribute the increased success that you’ve had at the plate this season?
Leonard: “I’ve always known what kind of hitter I was but after I got hurt it was different because I didn’t know what my body could or couldn’t handle. I think working hard and trying to get back to the level I was at before I got hurt is something I really strived for and pushed myself to the absolute max to try to get myself there. My coaching staff and people outside the coaching staff definitely helped get me to where I need to be. My family and everyone helped me get back there.”

BSB: What was going through your mind during your performance against Indiana in the Big Ten tournament (two grand slams, 10 RBI)?
Leonard: “It’s great to accomplish what I did but during the at-bats you have to forget about the last one whether you do well or not because it’s the one in the present moment that matters. It was really exciting to have the at-bats that I did but in the moment I was thinking about accomplishing more for my team. Even though we were up by so many runs, we needed more because we were trying to make a statement in that game.”

BSB: After you hit the first grand slam, were you going all out for a second one?
Leonard: “It was the same approach. I was trying to think ahead about what they were going to pitch to me. They went outside, which is what I was expecting, and ultimately it just worked out really well. I was pretty excited.”

BSB: What’s your favorite memory so far from your time at Ohio State?
Leonard: “Off the field, it’s probably all the moments I get to spend with my team. Outside of the game we’re really close and connect with each other really well. All the moments I spend with them and with my family are great.”

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