By David Cohn
The last quarters of a Stanford student’s undergraduate experience can be nostalgic, as seniors begin to reflect on their time on the Farm. For student-athletes, this effect can be magnified, as senior year is also the culmination of four years of hard work in athletics.
Senior softball player Leah White and her other senior teammates share a profound determination to make the most of this upcoming season. While White worked towards being recruited since she was young and then towards earning a starting spot in each of her four seasons with the Cardinal, she is certainly not daunted by the notion of this “final season.” Rather, White is focused on continuing to lead her team by example in this critical moment for Stanford softball.
That mindset encapsulates the storied softball career that White has had at Stanford, with three consecutive NFCA All-West Region Second Team selections and two All-Pac-12 Second Team selections. In addition, she has also consistently been among the team leaders in nearly every offensive category, from batting average to on-base percentage to runs and stolen bases.
However, White’s accomplishments at Stanford have certainly not been limited to the softball field, as she has also excelled in the classroom as a human biology major, while conducting pediatric oncology research at the Stanford Center for Clinical Sciences Research.
As her classmate in a human biology course called Cancer Epidemiology last spring, it was easy to recognize how White seemingly effortlessly managed her commitments and achieved success both in the classroom and on the field, all while remaining incredibly humble, and doing it with a smile on her face.
Leah’s journey to Stanford was marked by hard work and tremendous focus on her goal of playing collegiate softball. While many college softball players had standout careers in high school, Leah took it to a whole other level at Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Arizona, just outside of Phoenix. White holds Horizon’s school record in career batting average (.501), hits (216), singles (177) and runs scored (188).
Furthermore, White’s senior campaign in 2011 at Horizon remains one of the finest seasons in Horizon school history; as a senior, White hit .638, with 34 steals, 61 runs scored, 8 triples and only 2 strikeouts over the entire season. Leah earned ESPN and MaxPreps First Team All-American honors for that remarkable season.
In addition to playing for Horizon High, Leah also played club softball for Firecrackers, a softball powerhouse based in Huntington Beach, California. Playing for the Firecrackers meant six-hour drives to Southern California from Phoenix in order to play in weekend tournaments.
“I honestly will never be able to thank my parents enough for what they did for me in high school,” White said. “We used to leave on Friday at 2 p.m. and drive to L.A., stay the night, play games on Saturday and Sunday and drive another six hours back home on Sunday afternoon.”
Leah also talked about the role that her brother Evan, who gives hitting lessons to youth baseball and softball players, has had on her development.
“During high school, he would try to help, but I wasn’t always so open to receiving help from him,” she said. “However, once I got to college, I would go home over break and summer, he definitely became a valuable resource.
“We don’t always get along when we are practicing. That is a very common thing when practicing with parents or siblings, but he is definitely a lot more patient and forgiving than he should be when I am not so open to criticism.”
After arriving at Stanford in the fall of 2011, White continued to shine on the softball field. In 58 starts as the Cardinal’s left fielder in her freshman season, White hit .374 and recorded 28 RBI.
White subsequently built on her freshman season by boosting her extra base-hit and walk totals during her sophomore season, batting .324 with 10 doubles, 2 home runs and 27 RBI. Most noticeably, White excelled in postseason play at the Lincoln Regional, hitting .333, notching two RBI and three runs as she helped the Cardinal earn a berth in the regional final.
Finally, as a junior last year, White produced another great season after stepping into the leadoff spot in the lineup, as she recorded a .441 on-base percentage with 11 doubles and 38 RBI.
White also continued to improve in other aspects of her game outside of hitting, such as posting 14 steals on 15 attempts on the basepaths, while also notching a .976 fielding percentage in left field; in fact, after committing an error against North Carolina State in the 2014 season opener, Leah extraordinarily did not have an error over the final 54 games of the regular season.
In all, White has achieved success due to her tremendous versatility, particularly at the plate. She has excelled in each of the three major areas of hitting in softball: bunting, slapping and gap-to-gap hitting. In turn, White has worked very hard in studying the tendencies of her opponents in order to employ the best possible strategy for each of her at-bats.
Elaborating on her approach, she said, “A lot of it is understanding what are my strengths and how to utilize them. If something isn’t working for me that day, or if something doesn’t feel right, to know that I have a multitude of other options. Speaking offensively, I know that I can go to my short game, I can go to slapping, I can go to swinging away. It’s kind of about using those things to round out my game offensively.”
In addition to her successes on the softball field, Leah has also been successful in the classroom as a human biology major, stating Cancer Epidemiology, as well as an independent study class in which she shadowed a physician, as her favorite classes.
White also cited the opportunities she has had to work with kids as a highlight of her Stanford career. For the Cancer Epidemiology class last year, she created a moving video presentation in support of her proposed study regarding pediatric cancer patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As part of that video presentation, White talked with a young girl about her brave fight against cancer.
Leah’s interest in working with and for children also extended to the pediatric oncology research that she conducted in the Stanford Center for Clinical Sciences Research last summer.
“I actually got extremely lucky in meeting the doctor that I worked with this past summer; she was very generous, and I am so appreciative that she let me work in her lab,” White said. “I actually just learned a lot from just watching her…I don’t know if working in a lab is for me, as I think I need more time and hours devoted to that, but it was a very cool experience.”
In reflecting on her growth as a person during her time at Stanford, White said, “I don’t think there is one specific thing, but I think coming in as a freshman, I was very quiet and extremely timid…the overall growth that I have had since freshman year until now, while using the resources that Stanford has, and meeting all of these incredible people, have shaped who I am.”
White also highlighted the impact of the relationships that she has been able to form, both with her softball teammates and outside of softball.
“These friendships that I have created with the girls on the team will definitely stand after graduation,” she said. “That is what I will take away [from softball].”
As such, it’s fitting to let Leah’s friends, both outside of softball and within softball, have the final word in describing her:
“Leah and I were roommates freshman year, and from then she has always been a cheerful, smiley spirit,” her friend Shirley Jiang ‘15 said. “[Leah] is admirably pursuing studies and research in order to work in the healthcare profession, which stem from her desire to give back.”
In turn, senior infielder Erin Ashby, also a Daily photographer, said of Leah, “Leah is such a joy to be around. I think the one thing I love most about her is her laugh. I guess you could say it’s her trademark. She’s going to make a great doctor one day.”
Contact David Cohn at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu.