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Coyotes softball player Ricks signs with Howard

For The Madera Tribune

Madera Coyotes softball player Lealani Ricks is all smiles with her parents Francine and Le’Andre after signing her National Letter of Intent to Howard University on Nov. 11.

After four of her teammates signed National Letter of Intents to play softball in college last year, Madera’s Lealani Ricks didn’t want to be left out of the party this season.

Ricks signed her National Letter of Intent on Nov. 11 to play next season at Howard University.

“I played with them for so long,” she said. “We were always talking about going to the same college. When they signed, I told myself I have to sign.”

Teammates Valerie Ornelas (Fullerton), Sofia Perez (York), Joslynn Davis (Bethune Cookman), Camile Nunez (Alabama-Birmingham) all signed NLI’s earlier this year and Ricks became the fifth in a calendar year to sign.

“It’s so great to sign at this time,” Ricks said. “I know it’s so hard to get colleges to commit girls because of coronavirus. Being able to do that and get a good amount of scholarship money, it’s so cool. On top of that, it’s an HBC (Historic Black College), I love it. It’s so cool to keep the tradition going. I feel so amazing. It’s so good to see my sister look up to me. She’s already saying she wants to go to my school. My other sister is talking to my coach to go to the same school.”

“It’s a testament to Coyote softball, but also to her tremendous work ethic,” Coyote softball coach Judy Shaubach said. “All of these players who have become successful have tremendous work ethics outside of practice. I tell them you make yourself a better player outside of practice with the extra reps, extra swings, extra condition and extra work. These kids have taken that and run with it. All of the kids that signed worked extra hard outside of practice. It’s a testament to their families to go the extra mile and put in the extra hard work.”

Ricks began her softball career as a freshman playing on both the junior varsity and varsity squad before cementing her spot on the roster as a sophomore.

“She’s grown up quite a bit since her freshman year,” Shaubach said. “This year, she has taken a leadership role on the field in

practice. Her skills have improved with her smoothness. She’s probably one of the best second baseman I have seen since Mariah Davis as far as her smoothness and agility. She’s a smart, heady player.”

“Being able to come up my sophomore and junior year to start in the lineup, be the first batter, pushed me to work harder,” Ricks said. “I was able to get more confidence to talk to colleges. I was really shy. I was so shy to talk to coaches. Now, it’s easier.”

Ricks was in talks with Utah State, Detroit Mercy, Arizona and Sacramento State before deciding on Howard.

“Me, Camile and Joslynn wanted to go to the same school,” Ricks said. “Camille said she wants to go to my school. I liked it that it’s an HBC. I want to be a pediatrician so they have a good medical program. That were the two main things.”

Ricks got on the Howard University radar by putting out a video and it was picked up by the school.

“We did this thing called College Bound Jocks,” Ricks said. “They did a recruiting video of me and posted it on YouTube. I was emailing coaches and sending them the link. Their coach contacted me and loved the video. We talked for a long time and it finally got official. I sent the video at the beginning of my junior year. I verbally committed last December or January. I went on a visit in January before everything closed down. I was so glad that happened.”

In addition to watching her four teammates sign letters of intent last year, she also had to watch her travel softball teammates sign to college and wanted that experience.

“I’m younger than all the girls on my travel ball team,” she said. “They were able to talk to colleges and signing. I knew I have to do that. I can’t be the only one. I worked harder when they were talking to coaches.”

Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to have the signing ceremony she wanted in the MHS cafeteria with her friends and family, but she is happy to have been able to sign.

“That kind of sucks because of this,” Ricks said. “I can’t do the signing with my friends. I had a little family signing, so that was fine. I’m so excited to go across the country. I can’t wait. I don’t think my mom will be so good, but my dad will be okay. My mom will call every day to see how I’m doing.”

Earlier this year, Ricks helped the Coyote softball team jump out to a 12-0 start from the lead-off spot in the batting order before the COVID-19 pandemic forced their season to be shuttled.

“We were 12-0 and we really had it,” she said. “It was so sad to not to finish. All the girls, we played with each other forever and we wanted to get that ring. It was so sad not being able to finish our last game with them, especially with them leaving.”

“She’s really worked on her multiple weapons,” Shaubach said. “She’s able to put the bunt down and work on her slap. Just her consistency is great. She’s slowing the game down and looking at the defenses to see what lanes are open. She can put the ball where the defense isn’t. As she’s matured, she’s using the defense to her advantage. She’s become a triple threat with her offense.”

In addition to being successful on the field, Ricks was also impressed at how well the team got along off the field.

“Our chemistry was doing well,” she said. “Most of the girls, we played with each other for a while. The other girls that we didn’t play with, we became close friends with. We didn’t get into arguments. If we did, it was like sister arguments.”

Now Ricks can focus on, hopefully, the 2021 season and another successful campaign.

“This is my last year,” she said. “All of us talked about getting a ring. My sister is a freshmen so we can push each other. We have a group chat and we are encouraging each other and to get their grades up. I’m trying to be a leader. It’s hard for the girls to keep their grades up because of virtual. I would have Facetime calls to help with their classes.”

“I’m not even stressing about college,” Ricks said. “Before, it was like I need to do this and that. Now, it’s so much better. I’m chill now.”



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