March 30, 2007
By Scott MacDonald
Caitlin Lever was born to play hockey. Her father, Don Lever, has spent most of his adult life working for the National Hockey League (NHL). A No. 3 overall pick by the Vancouver Canucks in 1972, Don played 13 seasons in the NHL and coached another 14, spending most of his time with the Buffalo Sabres (1987-89/1992-2002.). It made sense that Caitlin would be a great hockey player.
“I was pretty much brought up in it,” said Lever. “I played with boys until my freshman or sophomore year in high school. My dad had me between his legs on skates ever since I could remember.”
When Lever moved over to playing with girls, she was introduced to the Syracuse Stars and helped them with two national championships.
“I was always one of the smartest players on the ice,” said Lever. “I would go to the Sabres practices with my dad and was around all those guys as much as I could.”
Joining her father in the NHL was Lever’s uncle, Rick Ley, who was a third round draft pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs and played two seasons with the Hartford Whalers (1979-81). Ley went on to coach in the NHL for 13 seasons.
“It’s funny to look back and realize how much valuable information my dad was trying to give me through the years,” said Lever. “Not that I didn’t try to do what he was saying, but I was always stubborn and fought him on a lot of stuff. It wasn’t until my mother (Karen), who I can talk to about anything, told me, `Your father is a professional coach,’ did I realize that she is right.”
Being so talented in hockey and playing on several different teams, Lever was destined to play college hockey. But softball would start to become her love. A game that she started playing just to be around her sister in the off-season for hockey, Lever suddenly found herself believing that softball was the sport she was going to play in college.
“I was burned out,” said Lever about hockey. “My high school coach made me a tape and he did a great job on it. I decided that I was going to stay around home, so I went to Canisius.”
There, Lever hit .300 as a freshman, with six doubles, four triples, two home runs and drove in 21 runs en route to leading Canisius to the NCAA Tournament. After that season, Lever decided that she wanted to be part of a bigger program and get away from home.
“Staying home was not the best decision I made,” said Lever. “I pulled some names and sent my information, Coach (former Tech coach Ehren) Earleywine, contacted me and I transferred to Georgia Tech.”
Luckily for the Yellow Jackets Lever chose Tech. A senior outfielder from Amherst, N.Y., Lever is a two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference performer and has improved each season. She drove in the game-winning run for the Jackets in the 2005 ACC Championship Game against Virginia Tech her sophomore season, hitting .324 with 31 stolen bases.
Changing to her jersey number to her father’s hockey No. 9 last season, Lever went on to set career-highs in batting average (.352), home runs (10) and RBI (39).
“I think it was just staying at practice and working on hitting everyday,” said Lever about switching from being a short-game player, bunter/slapper, to a swing away power hitter. “Coach E realized that I could drive the ball and was strong, so we made the decision to swing away last year and it has paid off.”
And then some. Lever has the Yellow Jackets off to another solid season and hopefully another run to a regular season title. She leads the ACC in most offensive categores and has surpassed career-highs in doubles and runs batted in this season. The All-American candidate has been named ACC Player of the Week on two occasions this year (Feb. 26, March 5).
“I am seeing the ball really well right now,” said Lever. “It’s exciting to know you have a preseason All-American (Whitney Haller) hitting in front of you, because you know that teams are going to pitch around her to get to you. The fact that I can look for a good pitch and drive it has helped me become a better hitter.”
The fact that Lever chose softball for an off-season sport and to hang out with her sister, makes her story unique. Most people play the game for 15 years before making a college softball team. Lever did it for fun and is one of the best players in the ACC, if not the country.