Shaping Role Models

Jennifer Leonhardt '20, Biology 

As a high school student athlete in the Louisville, Kentucky, area, Jennifer Leonhardt was told she would have to either accept a lesser role on the softball field or sacrifice her intention to major in biology. Rather than settle, she was determined to find a team and a school that would empower her both on and off the field.

After meeting Sue Kunkle, women’s head softball coach, it became clear to her that school was USI.

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Jennifer pitching

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Jennifer and teammates signing softballs for young fans

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Jennifer working in biology lab

“Athletically, I chose USI because I felt it was a place where I could grow as an individual and have an impact on the team. Academically, USI offered a wide variety of classes that would benefit my future.”

The offerings of the Biology Department, as well as USI's support of student athletes, have allowed Jennifer to take on a rigorous workload despite the demands of her sport. "I love learning and being able to grow. By taking that into my future, I hopefully will be able to succeed.”

As for impact on the team…Jennifer is a three-time Division II All-American and holds the school record for both wins and strikeouts. In 2018, her historic pitching performance helped USI earn its first-ever national championship in a women’s team sport.

I’ve come across faculty, professors, friends and coaches who genuinely care about my success inside the classroom and on the field. I have found my footing and grown as an adult through the support of all the people around me.

Despite her success, Jennifer most values her relationship with Coach Kunkle, herself a pitcher with collegiate success at the Division II level at California University of Pennsylvania, for the support she received at the low points.

"There was a point in my sophomore season where I wasn’t performing my best and was facing the most challenging semester yet. On a few occasions I went into Coach Kunkle’s office and just talked to her. She gave me advice as my coach, my friend and my mentor. I will forever be thankful that she has given me the opportunity to be a part of this team. Not only that, she didn’t give up on me when I was at my lowest."

Now going into her senior year, Jennifer is ready to give it all she has while looking ahead to her plans for dental school and a career as an orthodontist. Besides her professional dreams, she also wants to use the skills Coach Kunkle taught her to help better future generations of Screaming Eagle student athletes.

"Coach Kunkle always says, 'Leave this program better than you found it,' and I believe the reason I can accomplish this is because she pushes us to become better people."

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Fans cheering and holding signs during the national championship match

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Jennifer being tackled by teammates, celebrating a victory

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USI's 2018 national championship softball team poses with their trophy

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