RANDOLPH, NJ- Randolph resident and Morristown Beard student Leah Stecker was recently named the New Jersey High School Girls Ice Hockey player of the year for 2019-2020 by NJ.com. The talented sophomore, who has the ability to play any position on the ice, just completed her season by leading the Crimson to the NJ State Championship in the inaugural girl’s tournament.
“It felt awesome to be selected as the state player of the year,” said Stecker. “I know it’s an honor because there are so many great players out there who were also worthy of this title.”
Stecker’s love for hockey was born when she started playing at the encouragement of some friends while a second grader at Shongum school.
“I started playing hockey at the age 8 for the Randolph Rec team because all of my friends played and I wanted to join them,” said Stecker.
A natural athlete who excelled at travel soccer and most other sports, Stecker had no trouble being one of a few girls who were “Keeping up with the boys” in hockey, despite it being known as a physical sport.
“One of my earliest memories of hockey was my first year playing when we had this tournament in Delaware with cross ice games,” said Stecker. “Me and one of my best friends Ryan, (who was on my team), had a pretty bad collision with each other and I got the wind knocked out of me.”
All good athletes know that when you will take your lumps, you get up and get right back out there, so after missing a shift or two in the game she was back on the ice. But not all her early memories involve getting knocked down.
“I also remember one of my first games my dad told me he would pay me $1,000 dollars if I scored a hat trick because he thought there was no chance I could,” said Stecker. “But I did, and he’s been paying me a little at a time ever since.”
Stecker played for the Randolph Rec program for 7 seasons, up through 8th Grade. Her Mite team won the league championship that first year she played, in a come from behind double OT thriller, and she was instantly hooked on the sport. The success her Randolph teams had winning their league championship and first place at their annual Delaware tournament a few times in the ensuing years made her thirst for more.
“I always had a dream to play in college,” said Stecker. “Even when I was little, I always said I wanted to go play at the highest level I can.”
Stecker quickly joined the NJ Colonials girls Tier 1 travel program in third grade as her second team, setting her sights on how she could continue playing in the future. At the time, Randolph High School did not have a girl’s program, so her family eyed Morristown Beard as a good local option, and she enrolled there for Middle School.
After spending most of her time playing defense for both her Randolph and Colonials teams, Morristown Beard coach Bruce Driver felt her talents would serve his team better on the offensive end playing center or wing.
As a freshman, Stecker proved him right when she led the Crimson in goals with 21 while adding 16 assists to finish second on the team in total points with 37. In her sophomore campaign she again led her team in goals with 16, this time adding 20 assists to be the team leader it total points with 36.
Leading the charge on the offensive end of the ice while also playing defense when needed, Stecker was a key cog in the wheel that powered the Crimson to an 18-8-1 record, earning the distinction of being the first ever NJ Girls State Championship team. Stecker made the most of her time on the ice in the title game at the Prudential Center, by scoring the first and last goals in Mo-Beard's 3-0 win over Summit, en route to being named "First Star" in the game.
“It was the best feeling in the world, we were so excited to play the minute we heard we were going to the Prudential Center,” said Stecker. “We really wanted that title so when we won, I couldn’t imagine anything better.”
With two years of high school and travel hockey left, and scouts inquiring about her budding college career, the ceiling remains sky-high. Her friendly demeanor and positive attitude makes her the best kind of teammate; the type who could be accused of finding more joy in the success of those around her then in her own.
While this trait may be in stark contrast to her physical ability as a top player on the ice, some would say it is exactly what makes her such a dangerous opponent. Not only does she make everyone around her better through her own play, but she also makes them 'want' to be better.
When it comes to her own performance and desire to be better, motivation has never been a question for the 16-year-old, who is also known for the big smile she typically wears on her face.
“I’m just trying to be the best hockey player I can be, so whenever I step on the ice, I think about that,” said Stecker.