Megan Leyva of DePaul softball adjusts to collegiate level

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Freshman pitcher Megan Leyva has been the No. 2 starter for the Blue Demons, stepping in behind senior Mary Connolly in the pitching rotation. (Courtesy of DePaul Athletics)

Freshman pitcher Megan Leyva has been the No. 2 starter for the Blue Demons, stepping in behind senior Mary Connolly in the pitching rotation. (Courtesy of DePaul Athletics)

Nicknames for athletes are common and they catch on quickly.  For freshman pitcher and outfielder Megan Leyva, “peanut” spread fast. 

Associate head coach and Leyva’s pitching coach Lindsay Chouinard are not sure how it originated, but said that her teammates loved her instantly. Leyva has come into DePaul’s culture and been happily accepted. She’s also excelled on the mound.

“It’s been a lot of fun so far,” Leyva said. “Now that it’s picking up into the season, I feel like I’m getting a handle on it. It wasn’t that hard of a transition from travel softball, but I definitely feel that it’s picked up.”

Leyva, who always seems to have a smile on her face, has stepped in and played a large role in a three-woman pitching rotation.  As a whole, this season DePaul softball is trying to replace the production of Kirsten Verdun, who was the Blue Demons’ No. 1 option last year and has since graduated.

So far, Leyva is 4-6 with a 6.06 ERA. Leyva said she’s noticed the talent difference in college, but added, “for the most part, it’s still 60 feet in and turn left and still 43 feet back.”

It’s this positive attitude that her teammate Morgan Maize has noticed and made Leyva a joy to be around.

“She’s always smiling so you don’t really know what’s going on in her head,” Maize said. “She brings that kind of depth that’s really helped out this year … I think because she’s always smiling, a couple of the girls try to get her riled up to see if she’ll react. And she doesn’t. You never know when she’s upset because she’s always smiling.”

Originally from San Diego, Leyva started playing softball when she was seven years old because her mother signed her up with a friend to play. She soon realized, though, that she had the talent and started playing in leagues with kids older than her. By 13, she started to play travel ball.

Leyva committed to DePaul her junior year of high school because of two instances, the first being a visit to DePaul’s campus and then also going to watch the Blue Demons in person when they played in California.

“I loved the coaching staff and how the girls played together,” Leyva said. “It just seemed like a great group.”

While the players caught her eye, when Leyva showed up on campus, it was Leyva who caught the eye of her teammates and coaching staff.

Chouinard, who joined DePaul’s coaching staff after Leyva had already committed, said she was unsure of what she was getting to work with until she arrived.

“She’s incredibly strong and has the potential to be a very, very good pitcher,” Chouinard said. “She has a very good changeup and throws the ball down in the zone. Her motion is a little unorthodox and tends to keep people off balance. That’s what’s worked for her this year.”

During this season, Leyva is already showing growth.  DePaul’s coaching staff works with Leyva so she learns by constantly talking the process out.  They’ve also stressed adding new elements to her game, such as  mixing in curveballs and working on her swing. Senior pitcher and first baseman Mary Connolly has also taken Leyva under her wing, often being paired up in drills.

Maize said she’s seen Leyva’s confidence improve in both pitching and her batting. 

“When we practice, sometimes you just see her hit these spots,” Maize said. “She also has potential to get even more movement on her drop balls. She just likes to work hard.  Hitting, she has a vicious swing

“If she just learns to control it, she’s going to be completely unstoppable in the next couple of years.”

For now, Leyva said her biggest learning curve has been her mental approach and how she approaches the game.

“I have to remember that I can trust myself and that I’ve done this so many times that when I go out there and play like I know how to play,” Leyva said.