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Athlete Spotlight: Leah Crouse

July 31, 2020, 1:50 p.m. (ET)

Each athlete that wears the red, white and blue has a unique story to how their careers came to fruition. From the junior level to the senior squad, USA Field Hockey is putting national team athletes under the spotlight to share their journeys.

While field hockey wasn’t the first sport she fell in love with, Leah Crouse’s young career has guided her across the country wearing the iconic shade of the Duke Blue Devils. When she isn’t battling the competition of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), she can be competing internationally for the U.S. U-21 Women’s National Team.

Whether it required equipment or not, Crouse grew up playing just about any sport she could, from softball and basketball to soccer or tennis. The list goes on, but what made the Virginia Beach native pick up field hockey was driving by Frank W. Cox High School during the summers. At the age of 10, every time her family passed by the open field of practicing athletes, she could feel the sport calling to her. Sure enough, when it came time to attend herself, Crouse felt right at home as a member of the Falcons’ field hockey team.

“I also ran track on the side in high school, but running in circles was not for me,” said Crouse. “The combination of the team atmosphere, running and hand eye coordination is why field hockey stuck. Also, the game is always changing and no play is ever the same, so for me, it’s impossible to get tired of.”

She was not alone in being a multi-sport athlete, or demonstrating athleticism in general amongst the family. Being exposed to a variety of different types of sports growing up, Crouse credits a significant portion of her sports passion to her older brother, Grayson, who played Division I baseball. Her field hockey, and track and field background, were heavily influenced by her father.

“From a young age, I always wanted to do whatever my brother did,” continued Crouse. “I always joke that my hand-eye coordination developed after having so many balls were thrown at my face, I had to learn how to catch! Also, my dad ran track and cross country at the University of Maryland, and anyone who knows him knows that he’s everyone’s biggest fan. He never pushed sports on me, but his positivity and demonstration of what a serious work ethic looks like continues to inspire me to be the best player I can be.”

Aside from playing for the Falcons, Crouse also was a member of the TCOYO club throughout middle and high school.

“The team atmosphere I experienced gave me friends that I will hopefully have for the rest of my life,” commented Crouse. “From the many team Skit Nights and countless hotel rooms stays with my teammates, I learned just how fun the field hockey team environment could be, and it solidified my passion for the game. Thanks to my club coaches Sandy Szilassy, Nicole Morgan and Mary Werkheiser, I learned to love the game for all it is worth, and I am so grateful for that. When things get tough, I can always call on this foundation of passion for the game to keep moving forward.”

Being the best possible athlete also meant excelling in the classroom to a young Crouse, a trait she values to this day and which played a big role in deciding her collegiate future. One of her proudest moments in high school came her senior year when she was the recipient of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame Student Achievement Award, which is given to any junior or senior in the state that has excelled academically, athletically and in their local communities. Among her many other honors was also being named Group 6A Player of the Year, Virginia Beach Sports Club Female Athlete of the Year while also receiving the 2018 Emile Tilley Outstanding All-Around Senior Female Athlete Award her senior year. On the field, she became a member of the century club at Frank F. Cox High School by recording at least 100 goals and assists.

When it came time to choose what team colors she would be wearing for the years ahead, Crouse felt Duke University was the perfect fit, again citing the importance of balancing athletics and education. Currently a biology major, she is on course for pre-med major, and although it has proven a worthy challenge and Crouse has no regrets as she has always been open to learning and new experiences.

“From the moment I stepped on campus, I felt the love and support of my teammates and coaches, and although there is definitely an adjustment period for everyone to college, I am grateful to have the opportunity to be able to grow into the player and person I want to be every day at Duke,” said Crouse.

In her two seasons so far for the Blue Devils, she has been named All-ACC Second Team (2019), All-ACC Academic Team (2019), ACC Academic Honor Roll (2018-19, 2019-20) and NFHCA National Academic Squad (2018, 2019). In 2019, she led Duke’s offensive prowess with 11 goals and 4 assists to total 26 points.

Crouse has also been very active in USA Field Hockey’s Olympic Development Pathway and originally started in Futures which provided more playing opportunities and a chance to improve her skills. Last summer, Crouse added another honor to her playing resume by helping USA U-19 to a gold medal in the 2019 Young Women’s National Championship. Through her entire experience in the Pathway, it was an afterthought that the additional playing time would eventually lead to an invitation to play for the Junior U.S. Women’s National Team.

“My first year, I ended up qualifying for the National Futures Championship, but I remember being a deer in the headlights and literally hiding behind players because I was so terrified,” recalled Crouse. “The next year, I became more comfortable on the field and qualified for the AAU Junior Olympic Games and the year after that the U-17 USWNT. Making this team and being able to progress to the U-19 and U-21 squads has been the most rewarding experience.”

Since 2016, Crouse has traveled abroad as a member of the Junior USWNT, including tours to Germany (2016, 2019) and Ireland (2017, 2018). She added that, as cliché as it may be, being able to wear the USA jersey is an experience like no other.

Off the field and outside the classroom, Crouse stays busy as the community service coordinator for the Blue Devils team, most recently connecting with Team Impact and the Ronald McDonald House around the Durham, N.C. area. She constantly keeps an open mind and finds ways to connect in the community, especially the past few months during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

As for training, Crouse has been working on strength and continues to run, although not as enjoyable without her teammates around her. She has also taken this summer easier than normal to put everything in perspective.

“Most people who know me know that I’m a fairly busy person, so besides staying fit, I’ve been using quarantine to slow down a bit, refuel and refocus on what I want to get out of these next few years,” said Crouse. “I’m fortunate to have a local turf open to play and that is basically my second home at this point, and I have also been coaching and trying to give back to the Virginia Beach field hockey community as much as I can before I head back to school. As nice as Zoom calls with Junior High Performance and Duke are, I cannot wait to soon be back on campus and playing with my teammates.”

Crouse, along with the rest of the Duke squad, is hoping to compete this fall with the rest of the ACC, as long as local public health guidance permit. As it stands, the ACC Championship will be held at Duke University from November 5 to 8.