Fa Leilua Relishes Opportunity To Play Pro Softball With WPF
Fa Leilua picked up the phone to speak with Lauren Chamberlain, the commissioner of Women’s Professional Fastpitch (WPF). Chamberlain’s pitch was simple, but Leilua didn’t need to be sold on the idea of playing in the newly-created league.
“Hey, do you want to play?” was all it took for Leilua, the former college softball star turned college softball assistant coach.
She had just finished her master’s degree in workforce education leadership at Mississippi State and a softball career that ended with a batting average over .350 and an on-base percentage over .450. After ending her academic career on a “good note,” Leilua accepted a coaching position as Long Beach City College’s hitting coach, where she helped the team compile a .328 batting average and score 234 runs.
She stayed with Long Beach City until last season before becoming the hitting coach at the University of Texas-Arlington in August. Leilua had started her own company, Fa Swings, a private training camp to improve softball players' swings at all ages, which she is still trying to grow. But the thought of playing at the professional level, being a part of a professional softball league in the United States and joining a league rising out of the ashes of its failed predecessors intrigued Leilua.
A fairly simple conversation, Leilua said, and quickly going over dates and what teams she might join, and she was in. “It was no doubt that I was going to join,” Leilua said.
After an illustrious college career in the middle of lineups for Arizona State and Mississippi State, Leilua transitioned to coaching, now serving as the hitting coach for the Mavericks. But, after last season—her first time playing in WPF for Smash It Sports—Leilua was eager to return to the league. She signed with the OKC Spark, an expansion team gearing up to play its first WPF season after adding Leilua and Jocelyn Alo, among other former college standouts.
“Being able to play at the professional level is huge to me,” Leilua said. “Softball is becoming just a huge part of the entertainment business. I wanted to be a part of that.”
Leilua said WPF’s mission and ability to showcase the best softball talent in the United States in numerous cities is what drew her to the league. The league’s vision on its website says that WPF showcases the best athletes in softball, provides a world-class experience for fans and connects young fans to their idols.
But when she started playing again last year, she knew she wasn’t physically ready. As she began training, however, she saw an opportunity. Instead of being the aggressive hitter she was used to being in college, she was going to have to be patient in the box and take more tips from her teammates while she got herself back up to a comfortable position as a hitter.
It allowed her to slow the game down again, walk more and wait, chart out each pitch and learn the tendencies of an opposing pitcher. “I didn't see it as a challenge. I kind of accepted it already prior to going into that season, knowing what I was capable of doing at that point,” Leilua said.
The experience also allowed her to talk with other hitters who reached the pinnacle of success in softball. Their approaches and techniques—and the different styles they were taught—helped Leilua. She said she took what she learned last summer from her teammates and the rest of the league and applied it to her players at Arlington and those she’s teaching at Fa Swings. Especially in today’s game, Leilua said, when a bevy of different types of hitters play the sport, it’s important to diversify the way someone coaches hitting.
This summer, Leilua is looking forward to rekindling the relationships she built during her first season in WPF. She wants to learn more, and being on a new team will ensure she’ll get exposed to more hitting philosophies. The league, too, is growing, now up to four teams and games located in six different states.
“One day, (I hope to have) the perspective of an MLB player,” Leilua said. “Just being able to wake up and play the sport you love as a job.”