By Dan Hardenbrook
At one point this season, Engadine Lady Eagles Head Coach Roger French described his daughter and star senior Leah’s desire to succeed as “almost scary at times”. Her will to win and the pressure she put on herself to succeed was sometimes almost overwhelming.
He often reminded her to keep things in perspective—in the end, basketball is just a game, one she has enjoyed and dedicated most of her life to. Enjoy the journey.
All of that – her focus, his advice – has paid off for Engadine’s Leah French. French has just been named the Girls Division 4 U.P. Player of the Year by the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association. The UPSSA also selected French for one of five spots on its “All Class Girls Dream Team” following her standout senior season. She led all Upper Peninsula girls in scoring, averaging 26.6 points per game.
Her 54-point performance in an overtime win over perennial powerhouse St. Ignace earned recognition from her fellow players, coaches, media members, and fans across the state. Her record setting performances and her competitive fire helped Engadine reach the MHSAA District Finals, and her leadership abilities lifted a young and inexperienced team to a 16-8 record.
That made French an obvious choice for U.P. Player of the Year.
French’s scoring average was good enough to place her second overall in the entire U.P., boys included. But it was her all around abilities that stood out with those who saw her play this season. French, a 5-foot, 7-inch guard, led the Lady Eagles in rebounds, assists, and steals, while shooting 83 percent from the free throw line.
She was often triple teamed, gaining all the opposing squad’s attention during games. No single player was more responsible for a higher percentage of her team’s production, and it wasn’t just because she was a ball hog who took a ton of shots.
French often sacrificed and set up her opponents to have standout games of their own along the way, showing a rare ability to perform at a high level while also making those around her better. It was one of the key reasons why Engadine went on a late season run that saw huge wins over top teams in the EUP.
“I have never been more impressed with an athlete’s improvement from junior to senior year,” said Roger French. “I have never seen an athlete get as much attention from an opponent on defense and still be able to have the offensive success she has had this season.”
As a coach who has had multiple All UP and former Player of the Year award winners, that’s high praise for any player, but Coach French says that French earns everything she gets.
“The way she studies for the next game with film and preparation are prevalent skills,” he said. “A lot of Leah’s big games were against our toughest opponents. That showed in her preparation. She is a very coachable athlete and a complete player.”
Although her high school career is now finished, work is far from over. Leah will continue to follow her dreams while playing the game she loves. She recently verbally committed to Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, where she plans to study Psychology and eventually use her degree in a sports-related field.