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High School Sports

Athlete of the Year: Cloverleaf's Alli Gray had flair, drive while motivating others

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    Cloverleaf soccer and softball standout Alli Gray is the 2018 Gazette Female Athlete of the Year.

    RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE

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Picking up a bat for the first time in eight months and hitting .429 with a .500 on-base percentage sounds impossible, right?

Alli Gray did it this season.

Hitting the soccer field and scoring 29 goals to finish a career in which you scored 28 times or more in your last three years?

Gray did that, too.

The Cloverleaf graduate will head to Ashland in the fall to play soccer, and she’ll do so with the 2018 Gazette Female Athlete of the Year award under her arm.

“She’s one of the most amazing athletes that I’ve ever met,” best friend and four-year softball starter Brooke Swain said. “Just her natural talent is incredible to see. Where it comes from, I have no idea. Ever since she was little, she just wanted to be a player and she’s always been aggressive. It just comes naturally.”

The natural part was incredible for Gray, who crushed opponents’ dreams on the regular.

The 2015 Portage Trail Conference Player of the Year in soccer wrecked the league by scoring a school-record 101 career goals to go with 27 assists (229 points).

To put that in perspective, only 2013 Medina County Sports Hall of Fame inductee Michelle Anderson has more goals in county history (104).

Gray broke the school record for goals in a game (7, Keystone, Aug. 20, 2016) and a season (34).

After a freshman season in which she registered 10 goals and eight assists, she had 28 goals and eight assists as a sophomore, 34 goals and six assists as a junior and 29 goals and five assists as a senior.

“I’ve never had a player like that,” Cloverleaf soccer coach Guillermo Porras said. “She’s just an athlete. Whatever sport she picked up, she would have succeeded. That’s the player she is. She’s that vocal leader that leads by example. The confidence she oozed out on the field made everybody that much better. It made my job easier because I knew I could count on her. It’s that maturity that is almost unprecedented for four years. It comes down to confidence in her mentality of loving the pressure moments.”

The softball records are painted Gray as well, as she finished a four-year career with a .457 batting average, 10 home runs and 75 RBIs.

Gray leaves with the county record for batting average in a season (.620), which is tied with Brunswick junior Becky Hurosky. Gray’s 121 career runs are a Cloverleaf record.

Those efforts put her on the All-Gazette team in both sports as a sophomore, junior and senior.

“Athletically, she definitely will go down as one of the best hitters to ever come through Cloverleaf,” Colts softball coach John Carmigiano said. “She reminds me a lot of a Jessica Rooma. She’s just naturally talented and does things on the athletic field that not many others can do. She’s an incredible talent and has such great hand-eye coordination that in softball the ball probably seems like a soccer ball to her.”

That’s high praise, as Rooma was inducted into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame on Thursday.

While many strive to be great for personal reasons, Gray did it the way every athlete should.

There was pressure in both sports, but Gray didn’t care as long as she was lost to the world.

“I’ve been playing sports my whole life,” she said. “There’s times I take breaks from it, but it’s something I’ve always done. It’s more of a mental thing. I go out there to have fun, and that’s why things happen for people that have more fun with it. If you go out there and try to hit a home run, it doesn’t happen for you. If you find the ball and hit it, it’s going to go.

“I feel like it’s more about having fun. If you can get to the point where you’re tied up with a team that is really good, you shouldn’t feel pressure because you should know your team is good enough to get there. You’re either going to win or lose. Why be upset about it?”

That’s what was the craziest part of Gray’s game. She never showed a bit of worry. Poise under pressure is one thing, but what she did was on an entirely different level.

Everyone on the pitch knew Gray was the player to watch in 2016 when Cloverleaf faced top-seeded Revere in the Kent Division II District semifinal.

Undaunted, Gray scored a goal in each half and took the brunt of everyone’s best defensive effort when the fourth-seeded Colts upset the Minutemen 3-2 in double-overtime to advance to their first district final.

“If you know Alli, she’s not as intimidating as she seems, but when Alli is in game mode, it makes everyone want to work harder,” former Cloverleaf midfielder Macy Garcia said. “To see something that we have to work harder on that comes naturally to Alli, it makes us want to do better to be up to her level.

“It’s something deeper. The whole point of the game is to win, right? You have to want to win. You have to be determined. You have to want to try your hardest all the time. Confidence is easy for her because not only did she know she was good, but everyone else knew it, too. When people were kind of scared and she saw people double-teaming her, it made her want to do better. It kind of boosted her. Seeing other people scared of her gave her confidence. It made it easier for her.”

That easiness made it better for her teammates, as no matter what the situation was, Gray was smiling on the pitch and dancing on the diamond.

As long as Gray was viewing it as a game, so was everyone else.

“Alli is a big momentum-starter,” Cloverleaf center fielder Hailey Eckelberry said. “Once she gets going, everyone definitely feeds off her energy. She just gets the ball rolling and is a force to be reckoned with. She gets everyone hyped up about the game. She’s loud and gets everyone excited. It helps a lot because in tough games, especially in softball where it’s a game of failure, to be fearless like that is awesome to have. It’s a reminder to everyone else that there’s no reason to go up and not perform like she can.”

Gray’s next step is just down the road in Ashland, where she hopes to build another legacy.

“It’s fun being that person that gets everyone pumped up,” Gray said. “I like being that person that people think, ‘She can do this,’ because then I know I can.

“If you’re a great leader, I think that people look up to you more. The player part comes with that because with the leader part comes positivity and always trying your best and not looking at the negative part of things.”

Contact Brad Bournival at bournival929@gmail.com.
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