Proclaiming ‘I have the rest of my life to work,’ Nixa’s Leonhart happy to return to Southern – Christian County Headliner News

Posted: April 11, 2020 at 6:41 pm

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One by one, Missouri Southern's seniors handed in their uniforms for the final time in the weeks following the sudden halt to their season in March due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Lady Lions had six seniors decide not to retain their final year of eligibility and return as seniors next year.

In contrast, for Nixa grad Makaila Leonhart, it was an easy call to decide she wanted to play again.

"Everybody asks me, Why do you want to go back?" Leonhart said. "After school Im not sure what I want to do. It's still up in the air. The other seniors have internships or jobs. I dont have anything specifically lined up. So, why not use the only year I have left to play softball? I have the rest of my life to go to work.

"Ive added two majors in order to postpone my graduation date and be eligible another year," she added. "Honestly, its surreal. Im excited to come back another year. Im ready to get started."

Leonhart was off to splendid start this year, hitting .344 with eight extra-base hits that included a pair of home runs, 20 runs scored and 13 RBIs. She ranked second on the team in most offensive categories.

Southern was 11-9, having won five in a row during one stretch.

After the NCAA cancelled all spring sports, Leonhart has done her best not to feel overwhelmed with grief or frustration.

"We were having a practice when we found out," she said. "Coach (Hallie Blackney) told us to come in from the field and right away you could tell something was wrong. We already knew the Ivy League schools had cancelled their season. But we didnt know what was going to happen to us. When we found out, we all lost it. I was in shock. It still hasnt fully hit me. Theres not much I can do. I can't control it, so being upset or mad doesnt do much other than ruin my mood."

Otherwise, Leonhart has had much to be happy about during her two years at Southern. She assumed the Lady Lions' starting second base job last year and hit .343 with three triples, three home runs and 25 RBIs.

"It wasnt a major transition for me, coming from Crowder to Southern," she said. "It was pretty easy. Everybody welcomed me from the start. We do a lot of team-building activities and are close to each other. Our coaches get everyone involved in everything we do."

At the same time Leonhart arrived at Southern, Jakki (Prater) Schneider joined Southern's coaching staff as an assistant. Schneider is also a Nixa grad and a former Lady Eagles teammate of Leonhart's older sister, Alex.

"Growing up, I was always around her and saw her as another older sister," Makaila said of Schneider. "The respect has always been there. Having her there at Southern to sort of guide me has helped a lot."

Prior to Southern, Leonhart played two years at Crowder, where she hit .383 and .423 and helped the Lady Roughriders to a 55-10 record and an NJCAA Region 16 championship her freshman year.

"I dont know if I fully knew what I was getting myself into at Crowder," Leonhart said. "After high school, I didnt have a bunch of schools coming after me. Crowder was my only option at that point and at the beginning, I didnt think they really wanted me. Nobody ever said that. But I had that feeling. I felt like I had to prove myself the entire time I was there.

"Jucos are crazy. You work harder there than you ever have," she added. "It takes special people to do that. Our team dwindled down so much because its not for everybody and some people cant handle it. But I wouldnt change anything about it at all. It made me the person I am today."

As Leonhart said, she didn't receive much recruiting interest initially from colleges, despite a very productive Nixa career. She ranks among the Lady Eagles' top five all-time leaders with 141 hits, 32 doubles and 103 runs scored.

Even with Alex being a three-year starter at Central Missouri State, the Jennies never recruited Makaila.

"Ive never been a standout player. Im not some huge hitter who is going to hit a lot of home runs," Makaila said. "Im more of a consistent player who does the job, can get overlooked and isnt on everybodys radar.Ive stayed consistent. Occasionally, I hit home runs and in high-pressure situations, I get the job done.

"(Alex) and I are wired differently," she added. "She knew exactly what she wanted to do out of high school. I kind of just went with the flow. She knew she didnt want to go to a juco. She went to Central had a successful career."

Alex is now part of Joplin's coaching staff.

The Leonharts drew their passion at a young age for softball from their father, David. He played college ball at Kansas State and Oklahoma Christian and was drafted by the New York Mets in 1994. He pitched one season of Single-A ball for the Pittsfield Mets in the New York-Penn League.

"Hes the main reason we both started playing softball andfor as long as I can remember, hes always been there through everything with us," Makaila said. "Pretty much every day hed come home from work and wed have to go hit and throw. Im so lucky to have him. I wouldnt be near the player I am today without him.

"(Alex and I) do a lot of the same things as players that he did," she added. "We put our heads down and go to work. We dont like to talk a lot. We like to see it out on the field."

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Proclaiming 'I have the rest of my life to work,' Nixa's Leonhart happy to return to Southern - Christian County Headliner News

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April 11th, 2020 at 6:41 pm

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