In softball, reading the signs is an integral part of the game.
For USF pitcher Leigh Ann Ellis, it’s a way of life.
The junior transfer from the University of Tennessee has been a huge force for the No. 23 Bulls this year. Ellis has racked up a 21-5 record with 208 strikeouts and a stingy 0.83 ERA. Ellis is also a main reason behind the Bulls’ 28-game home winning streak.
However, when she’s not throwing for the Bulls, Ellis is busy studying her major, sign language interpreting.
“Until college, I didn’t know anybody that was deaf, and I didn’t know how to sign at all,” Ellis said. “I saw people signing on campus, and when I asked people about it, they told me about the interpreting program at Tennessee. I got involved and I loved it from the beginning.”
Growing up, Ellis didn’t really come into contact with any deaf individuals. She believes her major just came to her.
“I didn’t know anyone or come into contact with anyone who was deaf,” Ellis said. “I enjoy signing, and it’s a challenge of learning a whole new language.”
Ellis has encountered some mixed signs on her journey from her hometown of Barboursville, W. Va., to Knoxville, Tenn., to Tampa.
After a high school career that saw her strikeout 927 batters, compile a 79-9 record and be named the West Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year in 2000, Ellis was offered numerous scholarships.
Ellis chose Tennessee, but after two seasons that saw her go 10-16, Ellis saw the signs on the wall for her departure.
“The coaches that recruited me and my class were fired after my freshman year,” Ellis said. “The coaches that came in made it clear what their plans were for the next couple years. It was their decision, not mine.
“But I thank them for that decision. It was the best thing that could’ve ever happened. I just wasn’t happy pitching for them. Only four people from 18 girls came back this year.”
When she left the Volunteers, Ellis went through the recruiting process all over again. According to Ellis, she was looking for a school that best suited her needs.
“Well, I’m a fan of warm weather, and I love Florida,” Ellis said. “My two choices were between Oklahoma State and USF. I took visits to both schools, and I knew when I came here that this was the right place for me.”
Donning a new uniform, Ellis wanted to prove to coach Ken Eriksen that signing her would be the right choice.
“I definitely wanted to make sure that he was happy with his decision in recruiting me,” Ellis said.
Since joining the Bulls, Ellis has exuberated a veteran influence among the team. It’s quite evident among the pitching ranks as well.
“She works with me everyday,” freshman pitcher Nicole Christensen said. “I think it’s awesome that she’s willing to do that. She definitely has shared everything that she can with me about pitching. She leads our whole team.”
However, when she’s not playing ball, you can count on Ellis studying sign language in study hall after practice, on bus trips or at dinner.
“I sign when I’m in the car,” Ellis said. “My teammates always get on me because during conversations when they can’t hear me, I’ll sign to them, and they don’t understand what I’m saying. Rena (Rodriguez) also takes sign language and we practice a lot. We try to go to activities in the deaf community and practice as much as we can.”
If Ellis continues her success in the circle for the Bulls, all signs point to USF in the NCAA regionals.