Mark down the first two years of college as a true learning experience for rising Illinois softball player Leigh Farina.
While there have been several highlights for the shortstop/third baseman in her first two years at the college level, she hasn’t dominated like she did in high school. She was a 2013 Illinois Coaches Association First-Team All-Stater while holding the all-time record for batting average at William Fremd High School in Palatine, Illinois.
Farina sports a lifetime .441 average from high school, including a stunning .495 as a junior. Overall, she tallied 176 hits in 406 career at-bats, including 16 home runs, 67 extra-base hits, 147 runs scored and 42 stolen bases.
Things started off well for the Rolling Meadows, Illinois native in her college career. In her first collegiate at-bat, Farina produced a single against 12th-ranked Georgia, which had highly regarded pitcher Chelsea Wilkinson on the mound.
“It was a very surreal feeling, because I was facing one of the best pitchers in the country,” Farina told the West Cook News.
That year, Farina appeared in 26 games, making 14 starts. Her highlights included hitting safely in her first two starts; going 2-for-2 with a run scored against Providence; and going 2-for-4 with the game-tying RBI, two runs scored and a stolen base in a game against Maryland.
Yet the overall season stats weren’t quite at the high school level. She hit .214 with nine runs scored, numbers that reflect the adjustment in skill levels at college. As a sophomore, Farina improved slightly, appearing in 18 games, hitting .222 and going 8-for-36 for the Fighting Illini.
But the light hitting didn’t affect her in the field. Farina was a key to the team’s upset of No. 9 Florida State, handing them their first loss of the season.
“It was one of my best defensive games I’ve played at the college level,” Farina said.
Now that she has two years under her belt, Farina feels she’s ready to take things to the next level, adjusting to the different tempo of the college game.
“There was just a different way players carried themselves and played at the college level,” Farina said of her first two years. “You're surrounded by great players from all over the country, and it is interesting to see the different styles and way people play. The game moves a lot faster because you are playing at the most elite level there is.”
Dealing with that was frustrating at times, Farina said. “There have been a lot of moments throughout my career where the game has been difficult for me. Every player experiences a slump, and figuring out how to get out of a slump is one of the most difficult things to do. Sometimes it gets so frustrating and you can't figure out what to do in order to fix whatever is wrong and all you want to do is quit.”
Yet she kept at it and improved as the season went along, taking up the challenge to compete at the higher level.
“It takes true mental toughness and surrounding yourself with good people to not give up and keep pushing through, because in the end it always passes,” Farina said.
Farina sees the improvement from where she was at last fall as she heads into her junior season.
“I know that my role is changing from an underclassman to an upperclassman, which means I need to step up and be more of a leader this upcoming year,” she said. “I had really good people to look up to and learn from as leaders when I was an underclassman, so that will help me as I get older and take on that role.