Seton first grader takes 12th place in ESPN NCAA Tournament Challenge

Love of Huskies, horses plays role in bracket

by Tim Troglen | reporter Published:

Hudson -- A first-grader at Seton Catholic School, who likes to eat turkey pepperoni and reads books on horses and dogs, recently accomplished what millions of adults across the county could not do.

Leah Clifford, 7, picked the University of Connecticut Huskies and the University of Kentucky Wildcats to meet in the NCAA Championship. The Huskies defeated the Wildcats 60-54 in the April 7 final game.

The win placed Leah 12th out of 11 million contestants in a college tournament challenge sponsored by ESPN. (She is listed as "Leah, osubuxfan97")

"All her picks were based solely on her love of horses and huskies," according to Ann Clifford, Leah's mom. "Kentucky for the Kentucky Derby... got to love it ... if only OSU would have come through."

Both Ann and her husband, Tom, are graduates of The Ohio State University.

Leah filled out a bracket last year, too, but finished last in a group of six, which included older sister, Lauren, 10.

"She ended up in last place, in the millions," Ann said.

Not this year.

Leah felt "very happy" when she found out how high she finished.

Her bracket method was simple.

"I was picking them with my dad," Leah said. "I picked them by animals and some numbers."

Leah loves animals, especially "horses and dogs and otters," she said. Otters "are cool," she added. And while the family does not have a pet, Leah is hoping for a "husky Lebanese Mountain dog," she said.

Leah picked the Huskies to make it to the final game because "they are really soft and very like ... umm, pettable and pretty," Leah said.

According to Tom, each year the family fills out a bracket, just for fun, to compete against each other. Everyone who enters is loaded into the online ESPN leaderboard.

"Her method was kind of funny," Tom said.

After printing out the bracket, Leah and her dad went over each team, one-by-one.

Leah asked her dad the number, or seed, of each team. Some were picked that way.

Leah also asked about the team mascots.

At the time, Tom did not believe the final game would line up with Leah's picks.

"I could not believe it," Tom said. "I had no idea she was going to get this far."

When Ann found out how high Leah's bracket finished, she felt "pure shock and excitement and happiness for her," Ann said.

"No one could believe that Leah placed so high each week," Ann said. "Each week we kept telling her it wouldn't last. Her classmates' parents were also following and amazed and shocked. People were following to watch the games to see if her teams won and cheer her on once they were out of the brackets themselves."

Ann said the finish was "amazing" because each pick was made by Leah.

"Tom tried to sway her but she stood strong," Ann said. "I believe when she picked U Conn. he said, 'No way will they make it past their first game.'"

Leah might have been able to finish even higher, except for her family loyalty, according to Ann.

"If only she would have gone against OSU, something she was raised not to do because that is where both my husband and I went to school and met there, she probably would have been even higher," Ann said.

Ann said her daughter's finish shows "anything is possible if you try."

Leah's finish also proves another point, according to her dad.

"There really is no method," Tom said. "Anyone's picks are as good as the next."

Leah did not win anything from ESPN for her finish.

However, there could be a prize in store for her in the future, according to Ann.

"When UConn actually won the last game, Leah was talking in her sleep ... she must have known they won," Ann said. "She now thinks we can get a real Husky as a pet."

Email: ttroglen@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9435

Facebook: TimTroglenRPC

Twitter: @Trog_RPC

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