Tonawanda News

October 26, 2012

Leah McDonell re-writing multiple record books at O'Hara

BY MATT PARRINO
The Tonawanda News

TOWN OF TONAWANDA — Leah McDonell scored her 100th career goal on Oct. 18, becoming the first Cardinal O'Hara girls soccer player of record to accomplish the feat.

Two days later she got bored.

"I love being challenged," she said. "I just did a cross country meet (last) Saturday for the first time, just to do something ... I never did cross country a day in my life. Girls were asking me what my 5k time was and I was like, 'my what?'

"There was over 100 girls there," McDonell continued. "I came in 34th and there was so much more room for improvement. I'm proud that I finished the race but I like to be challenged every day."

That's not an understatement — McDonell never stops. 

After eclipsing 1,000 points in basketball last season as a junior for the State Champion Hawks (she's roughly 130 points away from the school's all-time record), McDonell turned her attention to soccer and the chase for 100 goals. She began the season at 66 and knew her mission wouldn't be easy.

"I never thought that it would happen," she said, accounting for an ankle injury her sophomore year that forced out of several games. "It wasn't even in my mindset after (the injury) ... It's strange because soccer isn't even my No. 1 sport. I don't know how to explain it, it's just different."

O'Hara girls soccer coach Stephanie Allaire said McDonell is an anomaly. The skills and drive she possesses is second to none and something the O'Hara coach has never seen before in her coaching career.

"She's the type of player that all coaches want. She's that type of an athlete," Allaire said. "She's hard-working, determined and she sets goals for herself. She has great leadership and she's probably the best athlete I've seen here."

On the field, when McDonell gets the ball there's only one thing on her mind.

"Every time our defense kicks it (upfield) I'm just thinking to get the ball and get it in the net — score. That's all I care about," McDonell said. "You know when you score so much the other team is placing two or three girls on you. You're planning before the game how you're going to get around that and who you're going to pass to. Before every game I mentally prepare myself for those kinds of situations. I'm very aggressive."

McDonell doesn't really know where her gifts come from on the field and court; she said nobody in her family is particularly athletic.

Wherever her talent comes from, she's determined not to let it go to waste.

"The championship soccer game is Nov. 4 and basketball tryouts are Nov. 5. I don't have a break at all," McDonell said. "To keep myself busy I just decided to play soccer. I enjoy running so much so it just happened that I got good at it.

"I scored 1,000 points in basketball so I thought it would be cool to do that and score 100 goals in soccer ... I thought that would be sweet to do. It's my senior year, I figured go big or go home."

McDonell's success could have easily alienated others at O'Hara but she is the ultimate teammate: someone who shoulders the scoring load and motivates and encourages other players. She is a two-year captain and she takes her responsibility as a leader seriously.

O'Hara girls basketball coach Dan McDermott has known McDonell for over six years and said it's amazing how good she is given her lack of size. He said it's her speed, quickness and competitive fire that place her in an elite class.

"I hate to say this but I doubt I'll come across a player like her in however many years I have left as a coach," McDermott said. "I've coached some pretty good kids along the way, been doing this for over 20 years. I've had some good athletes, but she's right up there at the top of the list ... You don't get the opportunity to coach kids like this very often. I'm sure there's coaches out there that never see a kid like this."

Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.