After four seasons as a valiant victor in Ann Arbor for the University of Michigan Wolverines, graduate student softball player Audrey LeClair returned to her hometown to fight for the maroon and gold.
LeClair, a Phoenix Country Day School alumna, has been involved with ASU Softball since she was young, which made ASU the right place for her to transfer.
"She's home," head coach Megan Bartlett said. "There are some cute pictures that Audrey has shown me where she is a ten-year-old at Sun Devil camp, and she's got her little bat bag that's bigger than her, and she's throwing the forks up, so I think that's special."
Even though Sun Devil softball was integral to her childhood, LeClair decided to go to the University of Michigan to play under coach Carol Hutchins. Hutchins is the winningest coach in NCAA softball history and University of Michigan history, with a career record of 1,707-551-5 across 39 seasons.
During her first two seasons in Maize and Blue, LeClair played in only 42 games (11 freshman year, 31 sophomore year) with six plate appearances. Because of her speed, she was mainly used as a pinch runner. She tallied five stolen bases and nine runs across these first two seasons.
Then came 2022, her breakout season. During that campaign, she had 124 at-bats across 50 games. Along with her increased playing time came a massive increase in success as she recorded 40 hits with a batting average of 0.323. During this year, she also had a wOBA (weighted on-base average) of 0.337 and a wRC (weighted runs created) of 20.592.
LeClair credits Hutchins' coaching staff as one of the main reasons for her success that season.
"That year, I trusted myself a little bit more; I've learned a lot of great things through that coaching staff," LeClair said. "I knew I wanted to be in the lineup, and I had to do whatever I could, and it wasn’t always the prettiest, but I tried to get on base however I could, and that's always my goal."
Not only did Hutchins help LeClair grow as a player, but she also helped Audrey grow her incredible work ethic and character, as described by Bartlett.
"I owe everything to Hutch; she gave me the opportunity of a lifetime," LeClair said. "She taught me how to be a strong woman, and a lot of people will say that she has great softball knowledge, but her knowledge about being a strong woman in this world is something that I will never take for granted."
After finishing her degree in communications at Michigan, LeClair decided it was her time to enter the transfer portal, and she knew there were some important pieces she was looking for in her next school.
"I knew that weather was a big factor," LeClair said. "I knew I wanted to be closer to my family, and when the opportunity came to meet Coach B (Bartlett), I was swooned by what she wanted to build here at Arizona State, so I wanted to make sure I came back home and was part of that legacy for her."
LeClair will bring a lot of skill and experience to this Sun Devil squad, which Bartlett and senior catcher/former Big Ten opponent Sara Kinch are well aware of. While also playing against her at Minnesota, Kinch was her teammate on a travel ball team.
"I'm lucky she's on my side now," Kinch said. "I remember playing against her while at Minnesota. When she came up, she got on base and she was going to be stealing."
LeClair has always shown off her speed, with 24 career stolen bases while only being caught five times.
Not only will LeClair's speed positively impact her team's offense, but it will also help the younger speed players that ASU has.
"It will empower (the younger players) to be more aggressive, be decisive and make right decisions," Bartlett said. "When you see an older veteran player (steal bases) with a lot of success and help make the ball club better, it’s a great visual teaching tool to the young players."
Along with having the opportunity to help make the club and its younger players better, LeClair has a unique opportunity to bring her Wolverine mentality with three games this year against former Big Ten opponents, including one game against Ohio State.
"It's always Michigan versus everybody," LeClair said. "But having the opportunity to continue winning against Ohio State and even playing Northwestern and Wisconsin, I'm excited to get the season going with a win against the Big Ten teams."
Edited by Alfred Smith III, Walker Smith and Caera Learmonth.