MERIDEN — Lea White was 9 or 10 years old, maybe as young as 8.
A decade down the road, Maloney softball coach Scott Aresco isn’t dead certain of her age. But, at the time, working the Meriden Boys and Girls Club summer camp and watching Lea White play softball, he was dead sure of this:
This is going to be my Maloney shortstop for four years when she comes up.
“I knew it then,” Aresco recalled. “The speed that she had was unreal. First two days: This is going to be my Maloney shortstop.”
And it did come to pass. Sort of.
“I was thinking about it this week,” said Aresco. “She had a great junior year, made All-State. Such a great athlete just to have one season at Maloney …”
It is, unfortunately, apt that Aresco left the thought unfinished. Like all senior athletes who play in the spring, Lea White had her final high school season go by the boards due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With White, though, there is an added twist. During her freshman and sophomore years of high school, White and her family lived in Arizona. They returned prior to her junior year.
That means Aresco and the Maloney sporting community had its shortstop of the future for just one season.
A loss, and yet hardly a total one, because White’s playing days are not done. She’s on her way to UMass-Lowell, a Division I program in America East.
So, Lea, we won’t say we hardly knew ye. We’ll say we’re still getting to know you.
“Lea probably could have gone anywhere she wanted,” Aresco said. “Just a freakish athlete with great, great softball abilities.”
White batted a team-high .513 last spring, rapping out 39 hits in 76 at-bats. A consistent contact hitter, White struck out just twice.
She scored 27 runs and drove in 22. With bat and glove, she was a main cog of a Maloney machine that went 17-6 and reached the quarterfinals of the Class L state tournament.
“This season, we would have a good season, too,” White remarked. “We’re really close and we had a real good team. I’m just thankful that last season I did well for myself so I could get a little recognition before I went off to college.”
In heading to UMass-Lowell, White will continue a local connection. Cheshire’s Casey Harding just wrapped up her career with the River Hawks. Kristine Drust, the Cheshire coach, was an All-American at UMass-Lowell in her playing days.
Drust, not suprisingly, played a role in the Lea White story. Friends with UMass-Lowell coach Danielle Henderson, Drust helped forge a connection that eventually ended with White signing with the River Hawks.
“I went to like a little camp there. It was kind of a like a tryout for me,” White said. “It really clicked for me and I really felt like I was at home.”
There are a number of girls from the Northeast playing at UMass-Lowell. There is also a sizeable contingent from California.
White is familiar with both worlds. Those two years in Arizona, where the weather is fine and the game is played outdoors year round, exposed White to the western brand of softball.
“The only break I’d get was probably Christimas break,” White said. “The girls, they were playing year round. It’s just so much more competitive out West because all the big schools are out there.”
Lea arrived in Arizona after her eighth-grade year with her parents David and Lisa, her sister Julia and brother Josh. The Whites settled in Anthem, a town just north of Phoenix.
As far as softball went, Arizona was a proving ground. Playing at a high level honed White’s natural abilities, It got her thinking about college.
It was also terribly intimidating.
“I almost quit playing softball because I didn’t think I was good enough to compete with the other girls,” White reports. “My dad helped me gain so much confidence and helped me to love the game again. I just wanted to thank him for always believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. He has always been my biggest role model and my number one supporter, and without him I would not be the person or player I am today.”
The Whites returned to Meriden in June of 2018. That summer, Lea played on Aresco’s travel team, the Hurricanes. By the fall, she was with the Cheshire Wildcats.
“That’s when it started to get more serious and I knew I wanted to play at the next level,” White remarked.
With Maloney in the spring of 2019, White opened eyes right away, even quite seasoned ones.
Aresco says he’ll never forget the look on the face of assistant coach Howie Hewitt, the long-time Maloney baseball chief, upon catching a ball fired to him across the diamond by White during infield practice.
During BP, White would take her cuts, rake some ropes, drive a couple deep, then head back out to the field.
“Sometimes she would go in the outfield just so I could get someone else a look at short and she’d track everything down,” Aresco noted. “So it’s going to be interesting to watch where she plays (at Lowell).”
White played third base and first base in Arizona. At Maloney, it was shortstop with a little outfield mixed in.
That defensive versatility is bound to pay dividends in college.
“She’s going to a Division I school and she’s going to find out she’s not going to be the best on that field like she usually is. She’s going to be mixed with a whole bunch of good players,” Aresco said. “If she’s not playing short, she’ll definitely have a shot of playing an outfield spot or second base.
“She’s such a good athlete,” Aresco continued. “Good for her that she has an opportunity to play multiple positions.”
White says she’s going in as a utility player. She’ll be rooming with UMass-Lowell’s three other incoming softball freshmen.
They’ll be playing for a coach with a checkered resume. As a player, Danielle Henderson was on the 2000 Olympic team that won gold in Sydney, Austrailia.
White is undecided for now on a major. Originally leaning toward special education, White recently took a medical class at Maloney taught by Cynthia Simone and enjoyed it immensely, to the point where she’s considering a career in that field.
As for that one season of high school softball in her hometown?
It was a good one, marked by individual and team accomplishment, and it was enough. Any lost limelight is of no account.
“I feel like I’m a pretty humble person, so I don’t usually like all attention,” she said. “I feel I had a real good season last year, so I’m grateful for that.”