Two of the most obvious gifts Zach Leahy is blessed with collided beautifully Feb. 19 in Rossford's basketball gymnasium.
The senior Bulldog posted 26 points and 12 rebounds in a win over preseason Northern Lakes League favorite Bowling Green, and in doing so provided spectators a glimpse into his non-athletic prowess.
A 4.2 student whose vocabulary expands to words like "exponentially," Leahy noticed the officials that evening weren't overly hesitant to blow their whistles. So he adapted to their preferred style by frequently attacking the basket and finishing with 20 of his points at the free-throw line.
"Sometimes they're calling little touch fouls and other games they're not," Leahy said. "You have to know when to attack the basket and when to pull up."
He seems to have that problem figured out. A three-year starter, the 6-foot-2 inch Leahy has been dominant in leading the Bulldogs through a season that has defied all expectations, including that of their coaches. Frequently playing against schools with much larger enrollment figures than Rossford, Leahy is averaging an NLL-best 23.3 points to go along with 6.5 boards and 3.4 assists for the 14-7 Bulldogs. He's knocked down nearly three-fourths of his free-throw attempts.
"For us to be successful he has to score, and he knows the way he has to do that is to get to the free-throw line," Rossford coach Brian Vorst said.
The Bulldogs face Defiance in the district semifinals Wednesday.
In scoring a team-best 18 points in a loss to Perrysburg on Feb. 12, Leahy reached his preseason goal of eclipsing the 1,000-point barrier, which he scratched into last year when he averaged 18.1 points. In describing Leahy as a player and as a team leader, Vorst doesn't struggle to come up with superlatives.
"Zach has been huge not only for our team but for our whole program," Vorst said. "Our kids watch how hard he works and know they have to pick it up if they want to play at his level."
Rossford has played at an unusually high level this year, recording an 8-6 mark in the NLL. Once a dominant program in the area, the Bulldogs have struggled in recent years as the school's enrollment has declined. With just 234 males enrolled, Rossford's nearest peer in the NLL is Maumee, which dwarfs Rossford's enrollment with 399 males.
Vorst says using the idea that Rossford is one of only two Division II teams in the conference as a crutch "doesn't fly" in his program.
"We sort of thrive upon it," Leahy said, echoing the company line.
"We know we're overmatched per se, but we know we can go in and beat those teams and earn a lot of respect. Then come tournament time, we know we can beat anybody because we've played schools that are bigger than us."
Leahy has some solid cohorts.
Mitchell Stewart and Tyler Kralovic both average more than 10 points a night, and Stewart mixes in 7.9 rebounds.
Leahy says although he's been a gym rat throughout his career, "everything seemed to end up right" during the previous offseason.
He figured he needed to average about 20 ppg - an increase of two from last year - to reach the 1,000-point barrier, and he has pretty much decimated that standard.
"I really broke through," Leahy said of his summer work. "I just exponentially improved and just jumped off the charts."
College coaches are on notice, and although Leahy said he definitely intends to play basketball after this season, academics will be the driving force behind where he decides to do it. A score of 28 on his ACT combined with a stellar grade-point average and a strong senior season should provide Leahy a wealth of options. Leahy's coach will undoubtedly miss his presence around the program.
"He's an unselfish player - the exact kind of player you want of someone averaging 23 points," Vorst said.
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