By Dustin Dopirak, Daily News-Record
Mitchell Leap used to plan his goal-scoring celebrations back when he was at Eastern Mennonite High School. He’d combine dances from rap-music videos and poses he’d learned from his idol, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, a star for Manchester United of the English Premier League.
Considering that Leap amassed 26 goals in 22 games as a senior with the Flames, he could always count on another score to celebrate.
College soccer, the EMU freshman figured, wouldn’t be anywhere near as easy, so planning celebrations seemed like a pointless idea.
"Usually in high school, I would expect to have plenty of chances and hopefully finish," Leap said after practice Monday. "Here, I’m not expecting to go in and score every game, so I’m more surprised when I score, so I don’t really know what to do."
That might soon change.
Leap, a backup forward, has four goals in his first six games with the Royals, ranking second behind fellow former EMHS star Junior Kamandua, who has five. He also has two assists, which puts him second to Kamandua in total points with 10. See Leap’s roster…
His contributions are a big reason why EMU is 6-0 for the first time in school history and why they’ve outscored opponents 17-2. Those victory and goal numbers have already surpassed the Royals’ totals from last season, when they finished 4-10-2 and were outscored 31-15.
"It’s so huge to have the depth that we have, to have a guy as talented as him coming in off the bench," senior goalie Jackson Maust said of Leap.
So why is a player who scores this much coming in off the bench? In part because no one – not even Leap – expected the freshman to make this much of an impact this quickly.
Leap’s phenomenal senior season, in which he led the Flames to the VISAA state title, was quite visible to the Royals, considering that most of it happened just down the hill from where they practice. EMU coach Roger Mast, who played baseball with Leap’s father in college, saw more than enough to know he could contribute for the Royals, but he figured Leap’s 5-foot-10, 145-pound frame would need some work before it was truly ready for the much more physical game of college soccer.
"I’m not sure if I anticipated him getting off to a start like he’s gotten off too," Mast said. "… I wasn’t sure physically how he’d adjust to this."
Said Maust: "I watched a lot of his games at EMHS. He scored a lot at that level and I wasn’t sure why. He’s not a huge big and strong guy."
Leap figured he’d have to get bigger to excel in college, so he worked over the summer to put on about five pounds of muscle with hopes of adding another 10 next year. Even after the addition, his expectations were still modest.
"Coming into the season, we always do preseason goals," Leap said. "My goal was to get five goals for the season."
He’s almost there already, because his skills have made up for his size.
Teammates marvel at his ability to put himself in the right place at the right time, finding holes in defenses that make for clean looks at the goal. He’s used his entry from the bench as an advantage, studying defenders from the sidelines, then using his fresher legs to outrun them.
"He just makes great runs off of the ball," Kamandua said. "Obviously, he can be at the right place at the right times, but it also takes knowing what you’re doing. I definitely think Mitch makes a lot of good runs, which is why he’s open a lot of the time and at the right time. He’s able to finish it, too, which is also a plus."
Said Maust: "For his age, he’s got a great eye for getting into the right spaces and being available, plus making good passes. … I was really impressed with his lack of hesitance, just going in and being ready to hit the ball when he had an open chance. That’s going to be very valuable."
And it might get him drawing up celebrations again.