Aaron Weintraub walked through the broad doors of Maryland softball’s locker room in the fall 2022 semester, greeting the 19 assembled players with a kind smile. It had been a year since the mental strength coach had spoken with the Terps, but coach Mark Montgomery was eager to bring him back.
The mental strength coach greeted Maryland with a unique message, telling them the time they spent together would force them to be vulnerable with each other. He introduced them to what he calls the “Defining Moment” exercise. One by one, the Terps went around the room sharing critical moments in their lives they’d kept private until then.
Stories of transfers, coaches fired, parents laid off and more filled the locker room. Then Amelia Lech stood, looked around the room and began telling her teammates about her experiences with loss and grief.
The rest of the Terps barely knew the sophomore catcher, who was usually reserved, but listened eagerly. By the time she finished, tears streamed down Lech’s teammates’ faces.
Lech started by revealing that her high school coach Mike Dagan — a man she said was like a “best friend” to her — died due to COVID-19 complications in 2021. Her longtime travel coach, Steve Harrington, died due to a heart attack a few months later. During just her first year at Maryland, Lech also lost her uncle and a high school friend.
Lech felt helpless. She had already struggled to adjust to her new home in College Park and now faced the deaths of four people she cared about. Lech tried to push through the grief, but the losses overwhelmed her.
The deterioration of her mental health showed on the softball diamond during a trying freshman season.
But slowly, Lech moved forward, focusing on mental and physical self-improvement. She blossomed into a star, emerging as one of the Terps’ best hitters and hardest workers.
Lech always had some big city flair, growing up in a town just fifteen miles from Los Angeles. She received early acclaim, voted to the L.A. Daily News’ softball first team at Newbury Park High School.
Dagan helped create much of that success. He and Lech were close until his death, which the catcher found out about via phone call from all the way across the country.
Despite her devastation, Lech attempted to return to the daily routines of college softball. But soon after, she suffered another loss.
She and Maryland teammate Kamryn Davis both played on the same travel team their senior year of high school. The two lived together as freshman and were scrolling through social media in their living room when their phones blew up — their travel coach, Harrington, had died. Again, Lech learned of the news from far away.
“That definitely was really hard because we weren’t there at the time,” Davis said. “We couldn’t really mourn with everyone who loved him.”
Lech, someone the Terps expected to contribute early, failed to meet expectations in part due to the overwhelming grief that surrounded her. She limped to a .103 batting average and started just nine games.
“I definitely was not in the right headspace at all to be playing a college sport, and that’s just a fact,” she said. “It is so hard to go through every day like knowing that was happening.”
Kobe Bryant graces the cover of his autobiography, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play — a single bead of sweat dripping down his head and his eyes nearly closed in intense focus. The book shares the mindset behind one of the most accomplished athletes of this generation.
Lech read the autobiography after her difficult freshman year. The book helped her avoid getting swallowed in the aftermath of the tragedies she’d suffered.
“I really just started putting myself forward instead of carrying a victim on my shoulders,” she said.
Moving forward meant looking backward as Lech tried to rediscover her previous form. She and her dad scoured her old high school games to find what had made her successful. Looking through the ‘archives,’ Lech found she had made the game she loved too complicated.
“I just went back to how I used to do it when it was so simple. It was just see the ball, hit the ball,” she said.
The sophomore removed the high leg kick from her swing, instead focusing on a shorter stride to catch up to fastballs. Lech also found the work ethic Montgomery previously felt she lacked. The coach said Lech was prone to point fingers at others for her struggles rather than looking inward during her freshman year.
Lech worked out much more to get her body into shape before the season. She also started staying after practice with fellow catcher Kiley Goff and star outfielder Jaeda McFarland, extra effort her teammates noticed.
When Lech returned to her locker, she found it dotted with numerous stickers that all had the same word — growth.
Players on Maryland softball give stickers to reward each other for exemplifying the principles that make up the foundation of the program. The stickers represented the progress both on and off the field that Montgomery craved to see from Lech, who was melding talent with diligence.
The sophomore also started to reclaim some of the same swagger she had as a younger player.
She dances around the batter’s box during every at bat, trying her best to be the intimidator rather than the intimidated. It toes the line Montgomery sets for his players on drawing attention to themselves, but he recognized maximizing Lech’s talent would require embracing her boisterous personality.
Now, the sophomore is cooking with gas. She’s hitting .321 with 11 home runs so far on the year, a massive jump in production from the dismal freshman campaign.
No at-bat was more symbolic of Lech’s growth than her home-run to take the lead against Indiana on March 25. The sophomore stalked around the batter’s box after she repeatedly fouled off tough pitches during an eight pitch at-bat.
Then, Lech capitalized on a mistake and blasted the ball over the left field wall, watching it fly as it carried through the chilly air. She flipped her bat and took a slow walk out of the box with the brash confidence her teammates love before they mobbed her at home.
The moment in Bloomington, Indiana, would have felt impossible for Lech just a year ago. A player who had no homers as a freshman — one where suffering masked her joyous personality — now put the Terps on her back.
The home run came because of Lech’s dedication to finding herself in the offseason. Her story is far from finished, but she’s shown the ability to move past adversity, showcasing the character her teammates recognized with stickers plastered on her locker.