Leah Clark has a newfound love.
The Union County Class of 2023 graduate has a future in softball, so that passion and dream will continue for the College of Central Florida signee.
But there was another sport that she decided to try before finishing her prep career, and she’s glad she did.
“Softball is my main sport so of course I loved playing, but I would have to say I enjoyed weightlifting the most,” Clark said. “I loved seeing the improvement each meet, hitting PR’s (personal record) and making it to state. Weightlifting season is one my favorite high school memories.”
Her dad, Lee, tried to get her to join the weightlifting team since she was a freshman.
“I work out just for fun but I thought why not try it my last year,” she said. “I fell in love with it and really enjoyed seeing myself get stronger. I think it went better than I ever imagined. Winning almost every meet, including districts, and qualifying for state was a dream.”
In her first year of competing in weightlifting in the 139-pound division, she was a district champion, a regional runner up, and a state qualifier.
One of favorite coach sayings is from weightlifting too.
“It was right before I was attempting a PR of 135 clean and jerk,” Clark said. “I wanted to do 130 but my coach (Ric Whittington) wanted me to go for the PR. He came up to me and said ‘no one notices a 130 but everyone notices a Cadillac (the 45-pound plate is called a caddy). Put the caddies on.’ I got the lift.”
Her final stats included a 140-pound clean and jerk and a 135-pound bench press.
Weightlifting wasn’t the only sport that she decided to pursue her senior year.
“My dad also had a big influence on me doing track,” Clark said. “I have always been super fast in softball so I thought why not give track a try my last year. It was a lot having track practice and softball but I think the key to me being so successful in track was believing in myself and working hard.”
In her first year participating in track this past spring, Clark became a district champ in the 100-meter dash (12.49) and the 200 (25.77), and she also finished top five in both events at the regional track meet.
“I didn’t know much since it was my first time, but I got better every day and it showed winning districts and being top five at regionals,” she said.
That’s three individual district championships for Clark in 2023.
Her favorite high school sports moments are winning districts, qualifying for state in her first year of weightlifting, being a two-time district champ in track and winning districts in softball her sophomore year.
The three-sport athlete is best known for her softball skills.
She’s been a model of consistency for the Tigers’ program.
As a sophomore, she helped lead UCHS to the Class 1A-District 5 title by batting .541 with 40 hits, 26 RBI and 31 stolen bases. That earned her a spot on the inaugural Mainstreet Daily News/The Prep Zone All Area Softball Team for small schools.
Among her achievements in 2021 was being named national runner-up player of the year by Extra Innings and the FACA Player of the Year.
Last year, she batted .397 with 29 hits and 33 RBI in helping the Tigers (18-6) to the Class 1A-Region 3 Final.
The two-time All State selection batted .400 as a senior with 22 hits and 14 stolen bases.
“Leah was a four-year starter who has a high softball IQ,” said Union County softball coach Jim Godwin. “She is an outstanding defensive player, hits with power and can beat the bunt out due to her exceptional speed. Great teammate and a pleasure to coach.”
But perhaps her biggest accomplishments occurred off the field.
During her career in the classroom she made all A’s in elementary, middle, and high school. She was named to the 2021 and 2022 All State Academic team and she finished her high school career with a 4.4 grade point average, which ranked eighth in her class.
Clark, who is attending the College of Central Florida in Ocala on a softball scholarship and will be pursuing a business degree, will always have fond memories of her time in Lake Butler.
“I will remember the supporting coaches, fans, and everything I’ve won the most, playing at Union County,” the outgoing senior said. “There was never a meet or game where my coaches didn’t believe in me 100%. Also, the fans and students show so much support which means a lot.”