Mack Leonard was already an accomplished star at Illinois State, leading the team in batting average (.425), home runs (10) and RBI (38) while posting an 11-4 record in the circle with 80 strikeouts in 100 innings. But she was seeking a new challenge and a new home. Leonard has fit in quite well at Florida State, where she is studying Interdisciplinary Social Sciences and leads the team in on-base percentage (.516) and doubles (10) and has twice as many walks (24) as strikeouts (11). She also pitched 3.2 shutout innings in Wednesday’s victory at No. 6 Florida.
Next up for No.3 FSU (36-2) is a top-5 series with No. 4 Virginia Tech, which begins on Friday at 6 p.m. (ACC Network Extra). Leonard sat down with the Osceola to discuss her move to FSU, what she has learned about the program and her two-strike approach at the plate. She also plans to earn her bachelor’s degree in the summer and start work on a masters degree while confirming plans to play another season at FSU in 2023.
When you went in the transfer portal, what were you looking for in a school and what appealed about FSU?
Leonard: When I was in the portal I knew that I wanted for sure to be somewhere with warmer weather because Illinois and just being in the cold for that time, 22 years, it was a lot. So I wanted to be somewhere warm because I’m always happier when I’m in the sunshine. And then I looked for obviously a great program. Florida State is nothing but phenomenal. When I took my visit here I just felt like I was at home. And I instantly just fell in love with it, walking through campus talking with Coach A (Lonni Alameda) and visiting all the facilities. It really felt at home. I was just looking for a place that felt at home. I talked to my family as soon as we left. And I kind of just knew as soon as I left that I wanted to be here.
Had you followed the FSU program in the postseason on TV through the years?
Leonard: In 2018, when they won the World Series, I said, ‘Who’s this team?’ Just because I hadn’t heard of them. They weren’t the OU, Washington, UCLA, they weren’t like those teams who were in the national championship, I feel like, every other year along with Florida. And so when I saw them, they stuck out in my mind. And I would keep up here and there with them as I played and as I watch college softball, but it wasn’t a team that I ever thought, ‘Wow, I could play for them someday.’ That wasn’t really a thought that occurred to me that this could be a life that I’d be living.
What has surprised or impressed you about the players, coaches or culture of the FSU softball program?
Leonard: I think that every single person, teammate, coach, support staff, alumni, fans, every single person has bought into our team and our culture and how we live. And we give our all to the team every day. And every single one of us has bought into that whether it took time or it was right off the bat. Every single one of us has one goal in mind and that’s to be the last team standing in OKC. And it’s just really awesome to be working as a whole unit, one team, one heartbeat working towards that goal every single day. And I think it’s just really awesome to see how my teammates progress through the fall and through the spring now. I can see how they’ve improved or what they’ve been working on in the cages and how that reveals itself in the game. I think all of that is just so amazing to see with this program. And just the fact that we are really one big family.
You lead the team in on-base percentage and don’t strike out very much. What is your approach at the plate and why are you successful at getting on base?
Leonard: I think just making sure to have quality plate appearances. I know that it’s not just my at-bat — whatever at-bat I’m having, it’s a team at-bat. And I try to do whatever I can to move whoever’s in front of me or pass that along to whoever’s behind me. So when I’m personally up to bat I just like to think, ‘Get a hard barrel.’ And look for a good pitch that I can drive to the green or to the fence or something. And then I just go from there. I’m very comfortable with two strikes. I don’t freak out when I get two strikes. If I don’t swing at the first two strikes that come my way, I’m not nervous. I typically am very calm in the box and I try to work on my breathing, which is something that TWill (assistant coach Travis Wilson) has tried to get me to work on. And I just try to be aggressive as well.
How much have you enjoyed or appreciated the FSU fans and the crowd support at games?
Leonard: I’ve never played in front of a crowd this big really. And then I think the biggest crowd I played in front of was when we were in Clearwater (when FSU played five top-25 teams in February). But honestly it’s just fun to interact with the crowd. … I don’t really feel any pressure because there’s a huge crowd behind me. But it’s really awesome to hear fans saying my name. I’ve never met them maybe but they know who I am and just having their support is really amazing. And I’ve never had that before. And then also knowing that I’m playing for something bigger, and I’m playing for a bunch of little girls who are out here watching us and just to know that I’m being watched but also I’m being watched while having the time of my life is just a pretty cool experience.