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NewsNov 3, 2021

Leading by building relationships

Self-proclaimed ‘silent leader’ Ilana Zack surprised at being named Lesley’s Athlete of the Year

ilana-zack-catching-in-a-game
Lynx catcher Ilana Zack calls the signals during a game.

Ilana Zack ’22, an animation major and drama minor, and a catcher on our softball team, received a pleasant surprise a few months back when she checked her team’s social media account.

She learned she had been named Lesley University’s Athlete of the Year.

“I personally think I first saw it on Instagram,” says the senior from the southern Massachusetts town of Randolph, from which she commuted last year during the height of the COVID pandemic. “I was honored because it was a hard year, and it was probably my best-performing year in terms of hitting.”

Zack, who caught in every game last year (the team lacked another catcher), was honored for her leadership on and off the field. She attributes the accolade to her ability to build rapport with her teammates, especially the freshmen and sophomores, but also because of the nature of the position she plays.

softball player Ilana Zack on base
On the basepaths, behind the plate or off the field, Ilana Zack is a leader.

“Being a catcher is itself a leadership position,” she says, explaining that “calling” a game from behind home plate is a “mind game” within the game, one that involves instructing pitchers on which pitches to use and where to throw throughout the contest, but also communicating silently with infielders when opposing runners are on base.

“It’s like a puzzle,” she says of calling the game.

Her leadership was put to the test this year when the team’s head coach accepted a position at another school. With Athletic Director Stephanie Smyrl and women’s soccer head coach Paul Vasconcelos handling most of the off-field logistics for the softball squad, Zack and other players, such as New England Collegiate Conference Female Senior Student Athlete of the Year Jordan Day, directed practices and in-game action.

Plus, of course, she has academics to contend with, including work on a student film in our College of Art and Design.

“Being an LA+D student and an athlete is honestly a lot of work,” she says. “It’s almost like two full-time jobs.”

But Zack derives much satisfaction from the results on the diamond. In this COVID-abbreviated season, the Lynx still managed to place as runner-up in the conference, falling to Eastern Nazarene College in the championship game.

“We’ve definitely been growing as a team,” she says. “It’s been really nice getting to know the girls and seeing everyone get better, not just in softball, but in their lives.”

As for her own life after the Lynx, she says she wouldn’t close the door on becoming a coach herself, and she plans to continue playing in the off-season with the Mass Drifters, a traveling softball team out of the southeast Massachusetts town of Taunton.