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10-11-2021-volleyball-versus-dartmouth-autumn-leak-anna-vazhaeparambil

Junior Autumn Leak kills the ball over the net towards the opposing Dartmouth side at the Palestra on Oct. 2.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

An afternoon hair salon appointment. For most people, this seems like a relatively normal thing. But for junior Autumn Leak, this was the beginning of her volleyball career. 

Her mother ran into another customer, whose daughter played on the United States Olympic volleyball team. She suggested that Autumn, and her younger sister Audrey — currently a sophomore playing for Yale — get involved in volleyball. The rest was history.

The N.J. native and her siblings were always active in sports from a young age. Both her parents played basketball in high school and college, and Leak tried golf, tennis, and, of course, basketball growing up. After that fateful hair salon appointment, Leak decided to give volleyball a go. She tried out for many clubs, and did not make the cut, but her mom kept pushing her. She eventually made one, and she has been a force on the court ever since.

After coming off a strong yet somewhat shaky freshman year, in which she admitted that “she often had a lot of anxiety before games, and would’ve cracked under pressure," Leak was excited get back in the gym and keep practicing and improving for the next season. Only, it didn’t come, as the Ivy League canceled sports throughout the 2020-2021 season due to concerns about COVID-19.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Leak kept practicing in the gym, sometimes with teammates, becoming increasingly motivated to help carry the Quakers to success this year. And so far, while the team has had a less-than-ideal start to the season, enduring an eight-match losing streak to currently sit at 5-9, Leak has been enjoying a fabulous season. The junior is putting up monstrous statistics in 14 matches with 208 kills, 83 digs, 20 blocks, and is leading the team overall with 221.5 points.

Leak credits her success this season to a major improvement in her confidence from her freshman season. Instead of being anxious at times, she realizes that “a lot of underclassmen now look up to [her], and [she] now cannot be scared of the moment so she can set a good example for them.” 

Leak now knows she has to be “the guy,” and while admits that she sometimes feels pressure in that role, she is much more comfortable with it now than two years ago.

Before games, she is very focused, methodical, and detailed. She “writes out her intentions of what to do in each moment and repeats them into her head constantly until it sticks and 'becomes reality.'”

Leak and her teammates set out this year with the intention of proving the team's preseason Ivy League bottom-finish prediction wrong. She thought that the losing streak was tough to go through, but said “breaking it gave the team a lot of confidence,” and strongly believe that the Quakers are now “a force to be reckoned with.” 

Before she graduates, Leak hopes that she has “made a positive impact on the team, helped them earn victories, and hopefully secured an Ivy League championship.”'

Outside of volleyball, Autumn is very involved with her schoolwork and other extracurriculars at Penn. She is majoring in political science, serves as the vice president of external affairs for the Black Pre-Law Association, and is also a peer career advisor for freshmen in Wharton. She hopes to pursue a career in law following graduation.

First-year volleyball head coach Meredith Schamun has been really impressed with Autumn both on and off the court so far, and credits her and her teammates for making the adjustment process to a new school and situation much easier.

“Autumn is one of the team’s unanimous captains, she has taken a lot on her plate, playing a bigger role than in the past, and she is very confident in herself and constantly trying to make the team better,” Schamun said. “She is a very vocal leader in team meetings, and always tries to find a way to win. Even if she isn’t playing well, she wants to help others have their best day.”

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