A player stands in the outfield and throws a softball.
Junior outfielder Audrey LeClair's growth has come at a key time for the Michigan softball team. Sydney Verlinde/Daily. Buy this photo.

Junior outfielder Audrey LeClair is a critical piece of the No. 23 Michigan softball team for her positive leadership.

She consistently leads the Wolverines in pre-game handshake lines and is the “fireplug” of the team, as Michigan coach Carol Hutchins called her. She is always animated in the dugout and keeps her team engaged, regardless of the score or situation at hand.

With her ability to cultivate a positive atmosphere so crucial to Michigan, it seems like her play at the plate comes second in importance. But that has changed recently as she has become a complete player. 

“She’s always been a fireplug,” Hutchins said. “But her game improved so much … She’s done a great job for us on both sides of the ball.”

This season has been one of new opportunities for LeClair. She mainly played as a pinch runner in 2021, appearing in 31 games that season. Early this season, when freshman outfielder Ellie Sieler nabbed the last outfield spot, it seemed like LeClair would occupy that same niche again.

But as Sieler struggled to produce at the plate early in the season, LeClair got her chance.

And since that moment, LeClair hasn’t looked back. She has started every game except for two since the end of February and has provided consistent fielding and a solid — if a little quiet — bat.

But in recent weeks, she has found her rhythm at the plate too. As she has relied less on slap-hitting, instead standing tall in the box far more often, she has seen an increase in both power and production. 

In the last 10 games, LeClair has notched a .464 batting average. On top of that, she is currently on an 11-game hitting streak. That kind of consistency does wonders for a lineup that at times has struggled offensively.

On top of that, she has performed in big games as well. In last weekend’s series against rival Ohio State, LeClair went 4-for-9 and scored a run to boot. 

And she still continues to buoy the Wolverine’s morale as well.

“Something we’ve been working on (is) having good energy,” LeClair said. 

That need is right in LeClair’s wheelhouse. Without LeClair’s energy and passion, Michigan might have gotten caught up in its 0-4 Big Ten start. It would have been easy for it to keel over and resign itself to a lost season. 

But the Wolverines have fought and clawed their way back to a reasonable Big Ten clip. After a 9-3 run, they still have a fighting chance to win the single-elimination Big Ten tournament next month. 

As her batting has rounded into form, LeClair has become a player that Michigan can rely on. With senior outfielder Lexie Blair returning to full capacity after an injury, she has taken over first base duties instead of taking LeClair’s or Sieler’s spot in the outfield, allowing her to gradually return to the lineup.

If a different outfielder was in Blair’s spot, Hitchins might have felt tempted to rush the process and place Blair back in the outfield immediately. But she hasn’t, a sign that Hutchins trusts LeClair and the performance she brings to the table.

LeClair has done more than just earn her role. She has cemented it — even over the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year.

And with Michigan hitting the home stretch of its season, that’s a promising sign.