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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Leles proves critics wrong with No. 6 draft selection

    UA infielder Jenae Leles rounds the bases during a 6-1 win over Utah at Hillenbrand Stadium on Sunday. Leles was drafted sixth overall by the National Pro Fastpitch Rockford Thunder last week.
    UA infielder Jenae Leles rounds the bases during a 6-1 win over Utah at Hillenbrand Stadium on Sunday. Leles was drafted sixth overall by the National Pro Fastpitch Rockford Thunder last week.

    It’s not the NBA Draft. Top prospects weren’t dressed in their finest and waiting in a green room with their families, anxiously awaiting their first multi-million dollar deals.

    In fact, senior softball player Jenae Leles wasn’t even paying attention to the draft. She was eating at Chipotle with her teammates when she found out she had been taken sixth overall in the 2009 National Pro Fastpitch senior draft.

    “”Some of (my teammates) found out before I did,”” the Fair Oaks, Calif., native said. “”I guess some of their friends were watching the draft, and they called and told them and they told me.””

    Although being drafted by the Rockford Thunder lacks the glitz and glamour that comes with more popular sports, it is nonetheless a compliment to both Leles and the Arizona softball program, said UA head coach Mike Candrea.

    “”For the female softball player, there’s not a lot of opportunity, so when a kid gets the chance to play professional ball, I think it’s tremendous,”” he said. “”I hope she takes advantage of the situation and enjoys her time.””

    Leles said she never dreamed of being drafted into a professional league.

    In fact, the Rio Americano High School graduate never even thought she would become one of the top players for one of the most successful teams in the nation.

    Through her early years in California, Leles played both soccer and softball, and according to her father, John Leles, she was equally talented in both sports. But as she entered high school she decided to give up one sport.

    “”I think it was just my instinct,”” she said concerning choosing the sport to focus on. “”I think I was always a little more passionate about softball.””

    And that passion has paid off.

    Leles has seen nearly all of her major statistics improve through her four years at Arizona. Playing at least 60 games in each of her seasons, she has compiled 34 home runs and 129 RBIs through her first three years.

    “”She always wanted to be a Wildcat because of coach Candrea and the team, and how well they did in the past,”” said John, who attended Arizona in the 1970s and played tennis for the Wildcats. “”Of course, me going to school here helped (her decision) a little bit, but I wouldn’t say that had that much on it.

    “”Even in high school, her dream was to play for the U of A,”” he added. “”That was her No. 1 choice, it really was.””

    But her ultimate goal of playing at Arizona was a lofty one, and she had plenty of detractors. In her freshman year of high school, Jenae told a teacher about her future goals.

    “”She said, ‘Well my goal is to play for a Pac-10 school and possibly, go to the University of Arizona,'”” John said. “”The teacher says, ‘Well you’re going to have to do a lot more, there’s a very small percentage that make it to the Pac-10.’

    “”I think that might have inspired her to push a little bit harder,”” he added.

    Apparently, Jenae pushed herself past everyone’s expectations – even her own. Her dream of wearing a Wildcat uniform came true, leading her to the desert en route to a national championship in 2007.

    And this year, she has been duly credited by appearing on the NCAA Player of the Year Watch List and has helped her team to a 13-2 start to the season.

    Now, Jenae is only focused on the rest of her senior year, but said that she will play for the Thunder during the NPF summer season.

    The NPF includes six squads – one of which is out until 2010 for economic reasons – and with softball being cut from the Olympic games, the league is one of the few remaining options for talented softball players to stay in the game.

    “”The professional league is starting to grow a little bit and starting to do a better job,”” Candrea said. “”They’re cultivating some good owners that are going to keep it going. That gives our kids a very viable option to continue to play.””

    But in a league that struggles to find a large enough fan base, players cannot make a living by only playing softball.

    As for Jenae, the family studies major said she could possibly move to Phoenix and become involved in fashion marketing, following her other interests: clothes and shopping.

    Having yet to find a challenge too difficult to overcome, the elder Leles doesn’t worry about his daughter’s future.

    “”Jenae has always been a person that is always pushed to the max in whatever she tries to do,”” John said. “”I think whatever she will do in life, with the program that coach Candrea has at this school, it’s not just what you do on the field, it’s what you’re doing off the field.””

    Perhaps Jenae never envisioned herself playing professional softball in small-town America, but her dream was the journey, not the destination. That’s probably enough to make her smile.

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