U.S. National Team eyes Cats’ standout (Softball)

Brian Sumers

After this season, Carrie Leto only has one more year ofeligibility left at Northwestern. But she’s far from ready to endher softball career.

“She’s someone who just wants to play,” NU coach Kate Drohansaid. “And she’s going to keep playing until someone tells her shecan’t anymore.”

Leto, the Wildcats’ second baseman, recently found out she willget an opportunity to prolong her career. She was one of 45 playersselected to try out for the U.S. National Team. In early June,she’ll head to the Olympic Training Center to compete against otheryoung players.

“It’s going to be really competitive, but I’m excited,” Letosaid. “I’m just flattered.”

The U.S. team won the gold medal at the 2000 Olympics, so Letoknows she’s going to have some strong competition. But she saidthat won’t deter her.

“I’m going to play my heart out,” she said.

The tryout is actually two opportunities in one — if Letodoesn’t make the National Team, she’ll still have a shot at the USASoftball Elite Team, which will conduct its tryout at the sameplace. The Elite Team is an alternate for the National Team at somecompetitions.

The junior from El Cajon, Calif., will be the Big Ten’s onlyrepresentative.

Leto shifted into the leadoff spot for NU (25-12, 6-6 Big Ten)this spring and has started all 37 of the team’s games. She isfourth on the team with a .276 batting average and has committedonly three errors in 149 chances.

The infielder doesn’t lead the Big Ten in any offensivecategories, but Drohan said the National Team coaches look for morethan just offensive production.

Drohan said she thought Leto secured the invitation because ofher on-field intelligence, her ability to anticipate defensiveplays and her competitive fire.

“I’ve never coached anyone who hates losing as much as CarriLeto,” she said. “She’ll do anything to have her team win.”

Leto’s experience in top-level competition was another reasonLeto received an invitation to try out for the National Team,Drohan said. Last summer, Leto was one of a few college players tojoin Team Smith, which consists mostly of former professionals andOlympians. Leto played against both the U.S. National Team and theElite Team while on Smith’s California-based squad.

“When we asked her to play for us last year, I heard she was oneof those diamond in the rough players,” said Julie Smith, Leto’sclub team coach. “She’s a spark plug player.”

Leto hopes to graduate from Team Smith to the National Team, butsaid she wouldn’t be disappointed if she sticks with her clubteam.

And while Smith wants Leto to make the national team, she saysher squad would miss the fiery infielder.

“I’d hate to lose her,” she said. “That’s the type of player Iwant on my team.”