PHOENIX (Thursday, July 13th, 2023) -- Utah Royals FC AZ's Bella Leonard has been named the 2022-23 Arizona Gatorade Girls Soccer Player of the Year. The award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field.
Leonard, who has played with the Utal Royals FC AZ since eighth grade, helped lead the Utah Royals FC AZ 2004/05 team this past season to a 19-3-2 record with 65 goals scored and just 15 conceded in 24 matches. The team earned an ECNL postseason berth and advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2004/05 ECNL National Playoffs. In the fall this past season, Leonard recorded a pair of assists for Xaiver in the team's state final championship. Off the field, Leonard led the St. Vincent DePaul canned food drive that produced more than 600,000 cans and over $60,000 in cash donations.
Leonard, who is already on campus at Notre Dame, spoke to the Utah Royals FC AZ about the award, playing with the Royals, and much more. Check out the Q&A below.
Utah Royals FC AZ: Congrats on the award. Tell us, how did you find out you were named the 2022-23 Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year and what was your reaction?
Leonard: I have already started at Notre Dame this summer, training with the strength and conditioning coaches. I had just finished a lift when I checked my phone and it was completely blown up with emails and text messages congratulating me on winning the award. I would have loved to have been home in Arizona to celebrate with my family and friends, but the amount of kind messages I received made me feel as if I was home. It goes to show what an amazing community Xavier, Utah Royals and my family and friends have built.
Utah Royals FC AZ: The award recognizes off the field work, can you talk about your involvement with St. Vincent DePaul?
Leonard: My late grandfather, James J. Leonard, was the most selfless kind soul I have ever had the privilege of knowing. I am the baby of the family, so I grew up around many aunts, uncles, and cousins who followed out my grandfather's example every day. From an extremely young age, "Papa", taught us the importance of serving and giving back to those who need our help, specifically marginalized groups like the poor and homeless. We, as a family, have volunteered at St. Vincent DePaul my whole life and I was lucky enough to continue this work at Xavier with the National Honors Society, where we put on a canned food drive every year which continues to break records. I have also volunteered with Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC) and am hoping to be involved with community service at Notre Dame.
Utah Royals FC AZ: How has the Utah Royals FC AZ helped you prepare for college soccer, which you will begin this fall at Notre Dame?
Leonard: The Utah Royals FC AZ has shaped me in more ways than I can describe for college. Not only do the coaches specifically curate practices each week for new topics, but they truly care about the development of us as people on and off the field. They also do everything they can to promote us to college coaches and give us the opportunity to succeed outside of home. I have been pushed to be better and challenge myself as well as learn to grow as a person. Utah Royals FC AZ and the coaches will always be my second family.
Utah Royals FC AZ: What are you looking forward to the most at Notre Dame this upcoming fall?
Leonard: I am really excited to play college soccer. It will be a completely new experience that I know will be tough but I will grow immensely. I will learn to push myself in new ways while playing against the best girls in the country.
Utah Royals FC AZ: What is your fondest memory of being with the Utah Royals FC AZ and what will you miss the most?
Leonard: My fondest memory with the Royals was this summer. We went to playoffs and unfortunately lost in the quarterfinals, but Coach Tiffany took us to Disneyland as a last goodbye before we all headed off to college. I also loved travel trips and showcases. Holland Carey and Annika Smith were my travel buddies and we had the best trips together.
Utah Royals FC AZ: For players who are aspiring to play college soccer, what advice would you give them?
Leonard: As cliché as it sounds, never give up. I wasn't the strongest at first, but I worked my way towards being stronger because I never stopped working. I was on a third team. I was on the second team for a few years and eventually made it to the first team and continued to grow. Just because you are not where you feel you need to be to play college soccer right at this moment doesn't mean it won't happen. Be comfortable making yourself uncomfortable and putting in the work where you need it, not where it's easy. Enjoy every last moment at the club and use our resources at Utah Royals FC AZ!