HOLMEN — Kendra Leis liked playing middle linebacker better than center because dishing out hits was more fun than trying to stop someone from knocking her to the ground.
She liked her role as an attacker in soccer because she liked engaging an opponent on a 50-50 ball and doing whatever was necessary to win it.
Softball eventually became the sport at which Leis dominated for Holmen High School, but she made sure she gave just about everything else a shot while growing up, too.
“I was kind of a tomboy growing up,” said Leis, who has been selected as the Tribune’s softball player of the year. “I have an older brother (Tanner), and if he did it, I wanted to do it.”
So Leis took the nontraditional rout for girls and played football and baseball. Soccer and basketball were also appealing, so she also made time for those.
Soccer became so important to Leis that it made for a tough choice when she had to select one to play upon entering high school because both were played in the spring.
“It was really hard,” she said while sitting on her home bench for four seasons as part of the Vikings’ roster. “I liked (soccer) because it was physical. Not that you are always knocking people down, but it’s like basketball where there is contact, and you need to play physical to win.”
Leis took her softball aggressions out on the ball — repeatedly — from the day she learned she was a member of the varsity as a freshman until the day she walked off a field in Sun Prairie, Wis., knowing that her Holmen career was over.
Leis played in 109 games and finished with 193 hits, 32 home runs and 124 RBI. She batted .516 with 40 doubles, four triples and 145 runs scored for a team that was 71-38 overall and 37-11 in the MVC with her on it.
“I coached five years and had her for four of them,” said former Holmen coach Roger Foegen, who stepped down in June after Holmen was part of a three-way tie for the MVC championship. “When I started, they told me there was a great softball player coming up but that she wasn’t going to play because of soccer.
“That first practice when she was a freshman, I didn’t know if she was going to show up or not. I’m glad she did.”
Leis turned into a feared hitter pretty quickly. She batted .462 with five home runs and 28 RBI while playing left field as a freshman and made a much quicker impact that she expected.
“I didn’t even expect to be on the varsity as a freshman,” said Leis, last season’s co-player of the year with teammate Kylee Schams. “I was surprised when I found out, and it was a little intimidating at first, but I did OK.”
She switched to catcher the next season and primarily stayed there, although Foegen said he was also able to use her in the infield occasionally. Her flexibility, he said, will make the transition to college softball an easier one.
Leis will study adapted physical education and play softball — maybe basketball, too — at UW-La Crosse. The basketball aspect was a bit of a surprise, too.
“When basketball season finished, I really missed it,” said Leis, who said there was some Division II interest but that she thrust herself into the recruiting scene very late. “I ran into an assistant coach (at UW-L) during a playoff (basketball) game between Onalaska and Menomonie and said I was thinking about trying out for the team.
“She said I definitely should. I got a call last week to come play with some of the players, and I think I did pretty good. (UW-L softball coach) Chris (Helixon) said he was fine with it, so we will see what happens.”
Leis also played four varsity basketball seasons at Holmen. She was a consistent post threat and could handle the ball when the Vikings needed it. Leis averaged 11.1 points and 10.5 rebounds as a senior.
While Leis’ athletic ability has made a difference in the success rate of the teams she has played on in Holmen, her personality has helped the process, as well.
Humor plays a big role in her life, and she uses it to keep her teammates together in both good times and bad.
“She is so good at keeping things light, and that’s something you need on a team,” Foegen said. “There are times you have to be very serious about things, but you can’t get so serious that you don’t have fun.
“That’s just the way she is. She is like that in athletics and out of athletics. It’s infectious.”
Leis, who helped the Vikings qualify for three straight WIAA Division 1 sectional finals, said it was just a matter of being who she is.
“Well, I think I’m funny,” she said with a laugh. “So are coach Foegen and (assistant) coach (Scott) Clifford. If you get the feeling that someone is angry about something, you want to get them to step back and get out of that frame of mind.
“It can’t be all fun because you are there to win a game, but you have to have some fun.”
The Vikings had that by playing their best softball in the closing weeks of the last three seasons.
Holmen didn’t win any of its sectional finals, but the coaches and handful of players all woke up three times knowing they had the opportunity to play for a berth in the state tournament three times.
“It was frustrating to not win any of them,” Leis said. “Everybody wants the chance to play in the state tournament. But it’s hard to get to that game, especially three years in a row, so it’s an accomplishment that I will always remember.”