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updated: 3/20/2014 5:28 PM

Flexible Farina a force for Fremd

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  • Fremd's Leigh Farina rounds the bases after hitting a home run against Elk Grove.

       Fremd's Leigh Farina rounds the bases after hitting a home run against Elk Grove.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 
 

Fremd softball fans have watched Leigh Farina start at shortstop for the past two years.

But since starting the game at the age of five, the versatile senior has been everywhere on the field, minus only the pitcher's mound.

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"You can play Leigh anywhere," said Fremd coach Jim Weaver of the senior all-stater, a two-time all-area selection. "You would be very sound defensively if you had nine Leigh Farinas in the field."

And there aren't many better in the batter's box, either.

Batting No. 2 as a sophomore, Farina hit .443 with 44 runs, 51 hits, 35 RBI, 13 doubles, 3 triples, 5 homers and stole 9 bases.

The numbers only got better as a junior. Farina hit .495 with 23 extra base hits.

But that wasn't enough.

"I'm trying to get over .500 this season," said Farina, who will be trying to do it from the No. 3 spot in the order for the second straight season.

"I like hitting there," she said. "We usually have speedy players and contact hitters in the first two spots so when they get on base it's nice to be able to have the chance to get them home."

Farina was quite efficient in that department last season, driving home a team-high 45 runs.

In order to reach her goal of batting .500, Farina would just have to pick up where she left off from in the second half of her junior season.

"She was red hot in the second half," said Weaver, whose team was 24-8 last season, winning its 10th regional in 12 years. "She actually struggled in the first half but hit close to .600 in the second half."

Farina credited the turnaround to a change in her swing.

"That definitely gave me more power," she said. "I went to a new hitting coach shortly after the start of the season and that got me going. I felt more comfortable at the plate."

Farina's big finish to the season included a remarkable stretch of 4 home runs in 6 at-bats against Glenbrook South and Elk Grove.

She finished the season with 47 hits, 11 doubles and 8 homers.

"That was a good feeling," she said. "I definitely want to come out this season hot like that because I have usually started out slowly. I feel this season I can come our strong at the beginning.

"I worked very hard in the off-season (with her Illinois Bash club) and definitely have more strength."

Farina's bat and defensive prowess caught the eye of the University Illinois softball coaching staff a few years ago.

She committed to the Illini prior to her junior season.

"I chose Illinois because I really liked the coaches and their personalities and how they teach and coach in their program," she said. "They're a great group of people. I also enjoyed the campus and atmosphere of the college itself.

"The school is also a perfect distance away from home. It is a really good school for education and to start off your career once you graduate from college."

Farina plans to study kiniseology in Champaign.

"I like being hands on," she said. "With that field, I can still be around athletes and sports in general."

Farina was around sports in her family.

She started playing softball because her older brother John played baseball.

Her father Vince was also a major influence.

"I was around that environment a lot and I always played and practiced with my brother and my dad," she said. "I really enjoyed it and found it to be a lot of fun.

"My dad is a really big sports guy and playing catch with him all the time when I was younger really made me want to pick it up as an actual sport for me to play."

Farina played many sports as a child, including basketball, volleyball, track, soccer and even tennis lessons.

"Growing up I was like a tomboy," she said. "Getting closer to high school, I knew I had to narrow down my choices so I chose softball."

Her chosen sport has proven to be the right choice.

And her move to short proved to be the right one, even though she was first a little reluctant.

"I was an outfielder and catcher," she said. "But my Patriots coach (Brian Freese) said I couldn't catch anymore because my agility and athletic ability would be better at shortstop. So, I said OK even though I really liked catching."

At Illinois, Farina said she expects to move back to the outfield.

"Leigh has some of the most exciting physical attributes a young player could bring to our team, as she is both fast and strong," said veteran Illini coach Terri Sullivan when Farina signed her letter of intent. "She is a threat to hit one out of the park and to steal a base. Her quick hands are apparent on offense and defense, and she will jump right in as one of the most athletic players on our team."

"Leigh's talent level is off the charts," Weaver said last week. We are looking for good leadership and her doing the right things all the time this season. If we get those things, everything will fall in line."

Farina hopes her senior year aligns well with the program's success of the past.

"Our goal is always to go to state," she said. "I feel we are far ahead compared to where we've been the last few seasons. My four years have gone by so fast and I'm looking forward to this last season."

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