MATTOON — Finals week has been a bit busier than Lake Land College pitcher Dezi Leonard could've imagined. That's because she has to move out by Friday, Dec. 15, and prepare for her new home.
Leonard, who has spent the last year and a half at Lake Land, won't be back because she will join an NCAA Division I school earlier than expected. For the second straight season, Lake Land coach Nic Nelson is losing a pitcher at semester because a D-I school was in need of one of his players. This time it was Leonard, who will join IUPUI's pitching staff in the spring semester.
Usually players move on after their sophomore season, but IUPUI came calling during the fall and the opportunity was too good for Leonard to pass up, even if the timing did catch her off guard.
"I am really excited to see what my future holds, not just for softball, but for my academics. They have a really good exercise science program and I am looking to get into that," Leonard said. "It's happening quicker than I thought. I am trying to get everything figured out with transcripts and such. Then you have finals, so I am trying to get everything done. I just want to thank coach Nelson and coach Denny Throneburg for the opportunities they have given me at Lake Land."
Last season, pitcher Anna Albaugh left at semester because she had an offer to join D-I Omaha. She appeared in 12 games and made one start for Omaha.
Nelson is excited for Leonard and said this is why players come to Lake Land, to have the opportunity to move on to the D-I level.
"Kids come to Lake Land because they are keeping the D-I dream alive and she got it and it was too good to pass up. Sometimes it comes in the middle of the year," Nelson said. "I am so excited for her and we are both disappointed we won't be together in the spring, but this is what's best and IUPUI is getting a great kid and a pitcher and she will immediately step into the lineup. It's a feather in our cap to have those kind of kids here."
Plenty of D-I programs saw Leonard pitch in during the fall period, but she wasn't expecting an offer so soon. She figured everything would fall into place after the spring season. But IUPUI came calling and Leonard not only liked the program, but also the school.
"When the deal did come, I went to their campus and I know it's cliche, but it was a place that felt like home," Leonard said. "Being downtown in the city will be a cool experience and it was a good offer I didn't want to pass up."
Leonard will be the fourth player on IUPUI's roster, but the Jaguars had a need for a pitcher after losing their top two pitchers. One of the returning pitchers, Nickole Finch, pitched 71 1/3 innings with a 6.57 earned run average. The other two pitchers, Erica Tharp and Maggie Armstrong, combined for 30 2/3 innings last season.
Throneburg, Lake Land's pitching coach, told IUPUI assistant coach Katie O'Connell, who is the former softball coach at Casey-Westfield High School, that he had a pitcher for them.
"They are looking for someone to step up and pitch in the spring and in my conversations with Katie O'Connell, I told her we have a left-hander who is capable of pitching for them," Lake Land pitching coach Denny Throneburg said. "When they had the opportunity to see Dezi throw, they felt the same way. She isn't going to overpower people with her speed, but with her movement and knowledge of pitching, she will be successful."
Leonard made 32 appearances as a freshman at Lake Lake Land and started in 13 games. She finished with a 9-3 record with five complete games. She had a 4.47 ERA with 39 strikeouts and only 18 walks.
"I would say I've grown a lot from high school. It's different competitively and from a mental aspect compared to high school," Leonard said. "I feel I grew a lot and learned a lot from coach Throneburg."
Throneburg said he saw Leonard grow a lot since she came to Lake Land and feels she will fit in well at IUPUI.
"She's become much more polished. Her movement is better, her location is better and mentally she's become more of a pitcher. The old saying is there's throwers and pitchers and she's a pitcher and it certainly doesn't hurt to be left-handed," Throneburg said. "I am thrilled for her. I am really proud of Dezi and all she has accomplished for us and I am happy for her to be able to play at the D-I level."