By ASHLEY OWENS
Most mornings, junior Leanna Pittsenbarger wakes up and heads straight to weight lifting with her teammates. After lifting, she goes to her classes for the day then heads to the softball field before practice for a round of pitching. That’s before practice even gets started. Once practice begins, Pittsenbarger picks up where she left off and pitches some more before treating her arm in the training room. Then it’s back to the books.
Practice, games, classes and school work give Pittsenbarger little time to do much else. But, despite her busy schedule, she said her family’s support encourages her to push herself to her limits. Because Pittsenbarger is so passionate about both being a pre-med psychology major and softball, she said she could keep her priorities in check easier.
“I really enjoy my major and learning about that,” Pittsenbarger said. “Everyone has something they’re passionate about and I chose softball. It’s important for everybody to find that one true love, what they like to do. Mine just happens to be softball, but I also enjoy doing those other things as well.”
Pittsenbarger, a 21-year-old Urbana, Ohio native, was named OVC Softball Pitcher of the Week three times, pitched her second career no-hitter and set a new Eastern single-game record with 18 strikeouts against Eastern Illinois University this season. She is also tied for Eastern’s softball single season shutout record after pitching 11 shutouts this season.
Self-motivation drives Pittsenbarger, but on the larger scale, self-motivation barely tips the scale. For the most part, her family is the true inspiration. Up until her freshman year in high school, Pittsenbarger participated in almost every sport offered, including basketball, soccer, volleyball and softball. She was even a member of a traveling volleyball team the year before she entered high school. But her father ushered her toward honing her skills for just one sport, and softball was the winner. Softball was the sport she felt she was best at, and was the sport that stuck most with her.
Pittsenbarger started tee-ball when she was three years old and around nine or 10, she said she started down the path that would eventually lead her to Eastern: pitching. Her dad pushed her to always work on her pitching skills and is one of her biggest supporters.
“He always encouraged me to go pitch when I was little,” Pittsenbarger said. “When I was little he would sit on a bucket for hours and catch me, and he still catches me when I go home.”
But Pittsenbarger said her greatest inspiration, on and off the field, is her little brother. Pittsenbarger’s brother is five years younger than her and has autism. Pittsenbarger named the hard work and dedication her brother has in his daily life as her largest encouragement.
“Whenever I’m at a point of adversity in a game I think, this is kind of a situation he deals with in everyday life,” Pittsenbarger said. “He overcomes it so I can overcome it.”
Pittsenbarger’s commitment to success becomes infectious when she steps onto the field. Teammates, younger and older, look to her as a leader and follow whatever lead she takes.
“Especially the younger pitchers on the team,” said fellow junior and roommate Katie Tackett. “They really look up to her and ask her for advice. She’s always there to help them out.”
Tackett perhaps knows Pittsenbarger more than anyone on the team. Not only is Tackett a roommate with Pittsenbarger, but she also catches for her. That means the two are together around the clock, and Tackett said anytime Pittsenbarger steps on the field she creates a good environment.
“She just really understands the game,” Tackett said. “She really knows what she’s doing.”
Pittsenbarger’s road to success has not been a simple one. She said she understands she is not the most athletic person on the field, which means she has to work harder than the rest, add in that extra pitch to get to be at a different level than the rest. In her time as a Colonel, Worthington said Pittsenbarger has added two different pitches into her bag of tricks, which has only pushed her higher as a pitcher.
As a pre-med psychology major plus the top pitcher on Eastern’s softball team, Pittsenbarger’s schedule is anything but idle. Pittsenbarger’s efforts in the classroom rank just as high as her effort on the field. Pittsenbarger had the highest GPA on the softball team her freshman year and was named a 2012-2013 Colonel Scholar her sophomore year at Eastern. But for Pittsenbarger, the extremely busy schedule is preferred over a laid-back one.
“I honestly think that it’s a little bit easier to juggle softball and school than it would be to just do one of those things,” Pittsenbarger said. “Because then you don’t have time to procrastinate since you only have a certain amount of time to do your school work.”
With a focus on sports as well as schooling, Pittsenbarger said she has no choice but to do every task in front of her because of her tight schedule.
“When it comes to her school work, she’s the same kind of person,” Tackett said. “She’s really dedicated to school.”
With a new year coming up for Pittsenbarger after this season, Worthington said more accomplishments are sure to come and Pittsenbarger will keep climbing the totem pole of success. For Pittsenbarger, the sky is the limit, Worthington said.
“She’s just going to keep getting better,” Worthington said. “I just wish we could have her for another 10 years. I mean, truthfully, she is a coach’s dream, and I would think she would be a teammate that everybody would want to have.”