Who's on first?By Kelly Ward | 02/11/2015 11:49pm
Junior Leona Lafaele committed to play softball for the Crimson Tide without ever seeing the campus. CW File
An official visit is usually the time for coaches to market their program. Recruits can see the facilities and experience what it’s like to be on campus. Junior Leona Lafaele didn’t need an official visit to decide on Alabama. In fact, hers took place the fall after she decided.
“That doesn’t happen very often,” coach Patrick Murphy said. “When she called, I said, ‘Are you sure? Are you going to see it first?’ and she said, ‘No, I just can’t keep it out of my mind. I’ve been thinking about it.’”
Lafaele was at a tournament in Colorado where Alabama’s coaching staff saw her play. Afterward, they went to the hotel and met her mom and coaches. Murphy said it was two or three weeks later when she committed.
“I just knew from the coaches meeting that I wanted to play for two great coaches [Murphy and assistant coach Alyson Habetz] because if they’re great, their girls have to be great too,” Lafaele said.
The first time she saw Alabama was on her official visit. She and her mom made the trip out to Tuscaloosa from California.
“I think it was the most pictures and video of any recruit we’ve ever had because that was the first time they’d come,” Murphy said.
At Alabama, the infielder has thrived. She has a .979 career fielding percentage. She hits .247 after hitting .266 last season. As a sophomore, she had 55 starts and 61 appearances. She hit her first and only career triple against Arkansas on a weekend where she went 6-8 at the plate.
“I think she’s very skilled,” Murphy said. “She’s very athletic. She played basically third and caught in summer ball, and immediately, she gets to Alabama and she learns first base, and she’s very good at first base. She’s got a lot of power, pretty good game sense, and I think she just loves to play the game, and I think it shows with her performance and just her joy on the field. She just brings a really good presence.”
Lafaele said she didn’t think she was on Alabama’s radar before the Colorado tournament where the coaches happened to pass by and see her play.
“It was so perfect because I didn’t know anything about Alabama softball, and the only thing I was looking for was just a home to where I would play the sport I love and be around people who are like my family,” she said.
One thing Murphy tries to do for his players is scheduling a homecoming game for his players. He can’t guarantee it will happen, but he tries. Sometimes the weather keeps Alabama away. Sometimes the Alabama’s schedule conflicts with open tournaments.
This weekend, he made it happen. Alabama will head out to California for the Stanford Nike Invitational.
Lafaele, a Sacramento native, will be about an hour from home.
“It’s so much fun for our girls – her teammates – because they get to meet everybody in the family, all her friends, people she’s probably talked to about with her teammates for the last three years, and then finally everybody gets to meet these people that we’ve been hearing about,” Murphy said.
It’s the closest she’s played to her mom in a while.
“California is really far away and being from such a big family, not all of them can come out,” Lafaele said. “Like my mom has only been to one game, and it’s cool. Like she always watches it on TV, on the radio. She’s always updated on it. My mom is there but she’s really not there, but she’s really there.”
Despite the distance from her family, Lafaele keeps a positive outlook. Sophomore pitcher Sydney Littlejohn said Lafaele is such a good teammate because of her attitude.
“She comes to the field, and she’s just so passionate about what she does, and no matter what, she always has a smile on her face,” Littlejohn said.
Lafaele and the rest of the softball team will play five games over the weekend. Alabama begins play against Pacific Friday at 2:30 p.m. CT.