Her high school chapter caught the attention of the selection committee for the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame. But Stevens herself was â€œshockedâ€ to learn sheâ€™d been named the 2015 Rudy J. Ellis Kentucky High School Athlete of the Year.
â€œThere are so many athletes in Kentucky, and it included all of the sports,â€ she says. â€œSwimming is usually one of the least recognized sports. When I found out the news, I was really honored and humbled to get it, because itâ€™s really rare for swimmers to be recognized. Itâ€™s such a huge honor.â€
Stevens led Sacred Heart Academy to its third consecutive state championship title. The team finished with 486 points â€“ having won eight of 12 events â€“ and picked up three state records.
In the 500 freestyle, Stevens holds the high school state record, with a time of 4 minutes 43 seconds. She was also named state champion in the 400 freestyle relay. As a freshman, sophomore and junior, she won the state title in the 200 freestyle relay.
â€œI am so proud of Leah and all of her accomplishments,â€ says Donna Moir, athletic director at Sacred Heart. â€œShe was an excellent leader and role model for our program. … She excels at everything she does, but she is also humble, considering how strong of an athlete she is.â€
Meanwhile, this past school year, Stevens was taking five advanced placement classes â€“ and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. She would come home some nights and study for five or six hours.
â€œThe Sacred Heart community and sisterhood helped a lot with all the hard work and training,â€ Stevens says, â€œbecause they were always there to support.â€
As co-captain her senior year, Stevens set the example, and her teammates looked up to her in many ways.
Stevens feels the greatest lesson she was able to teach was at the 200-meter freestyle at the state tournament. All her teammates expected her to win. But in this contest, Stevens came up short behind a freshman from Northern Kentucky.
â€œEveryone expected me to be upset and to pout,â€ she says. â€œBut I was determined to keep a positive attitude. I wasnâ€™t upset; I congratulated the girl, and I was so happy for her.â€
Stevensâ€™ gracious and upbeat reactionÂ made a big impression on a lot of underclassmen.
This fall, Stevens will head to Stanford University on a swimming scholarship.
â€œStanford had always been my dream school,â€ she says. And when she went for her official visit, it felt like home.
She applied early in June, and then Stanfordâ€™s head coach came to her house for a visit.
â€œThatâ€™s when he told me I had been accepted, and he offered me a scholarship,â€ Stevens says. â€œThat feeling was amazing. All my hard work and determination paid off.â€
In addition to her talent as a swimmer, Stevens will bring an extraordinary strength of character to Stanford.
â€œIâ€™ve gone through highs and lows in sport,â€ she says. â€œI think being positive and never giving up has definitely taught me that there will be a better outcome if you just persevere. Iâ€™ve had to push through the lows, and Iâ€™ve always come out on the other sideÂ … even better.â€ VT
Photos courtesy of KHSAA