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High expectations for Leidel heading into second season with UMass

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

Last year, even as the Massachusetts women’s basketball team lost 11 straight and finished 9-21, freshman Hailey Leidel had a rookie season for the ages.

Named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, Leidel finished as the second-highest scoring rookie in the nation, and tied a Minutewomen single season record for three-pointers made, with 78.

Now heading into her sophomore year, Leidel is looking to keep her production up.

“Personally, I want to sustain my stats,” Leidel said. “I don’t want to decrease in percentages or efficiency and all that. And I’d love to make an All-Conference team, that’s one of my goals.”

Her efficiency across the board was perhaps the most remarkable thing about a remarkable freshman year. Leidel made nearly 40 percent of her three-pointers and 81 percent of her free throws, finishing with 465 points and 15.5 points per game.

Part of the reason for her consistent production was the weakness of the Minutewomen as a whole last year. Lacking depth, UMass often went into games with only six players on the roster, which resulted in fatigue down the stretch. This year, the Minutewomen have added seven new players, hoping to gain in skill as well as depth.

“Last year, we didn’t have the versatility that we have this year,” coach Tory Verdi said. “Last year we had one perimeter threat in Hailey Leidel and one inside threat in Maggie Mulligan, where this year we feel like we’re putting five players out on the floor who can all do something.”

Between her talent and the lack of bodies on the team, Leidel logged 1,144 minutes last year, averaging 38.1 per game. Both numbers broke UMass single-season records and were tops among the A-10 as well.

Although it’s unlikely that Leidel will see a similar workload this year, Verdi said that she will still get plenty of time on the floor.

“She’s still going to be a high-volume minutes player,” Verdi said. “She’s going to be out on the floor, but on any given night, she could go from playing 33 minutes to 28 minutes, that’s kind of where I see her being.”

The newfound depth that will allow Verdi to manage Leidel’s playing time brings other challengers. UMass returns only four players from last year’s team, and with seven new players, Leidel and the other returners will be asked to step into the role of team mentors.

“Just taking more of a leadership role in the team, I didn’t really have that last year,” Leidel said. “In terms of preparing for this season I had to help other people, not just myself, with last year I was just focusing on getting through my freshman year.”

This season will depend more on Leidel and the other returners, but last year’s journey will prove beneficial for the seven veterans.

“The adversity built character in our players,” Verdi said. “The returners, when you look at Jessica George and Maggie Mulligan and Hailey Leidel and Leah McDerment, what they went through last year built some character.”

With freshman year behind her, Leidel said that the game has slowed down for her, allowing her to help this year’s freshmen adjust.

“It is night and day,” Leidel said. “Knowing things, how they’re going to run already in games, you can kind of tell how things are going to go or how to adjust to certain things, where before, it was kind of a learning experience and I had to go through it before I could adjust. But now, I don’t really need to have someone always telling me what to do, I can read it on my own, and it helps a lot because I can help other people who are in my position where I was last year.”

A year of experience has also changed Leidel’s preparation. This year, she is taking steps to prepare on her own in the hopes that she can improve her game down the road.

“Last year I think I was just kind of doing what I was told, because I was a freshman and I didn’t know any better,” Leidel said. “This year I kind of took it more into my own hands, like running on my own, making sure I was eating well, all the little things that I know more that will help me in the long run.”

Time will tell if Leidel can deliver on her second act here at UMass. In the meantime, she is hoping that the Minutewomen can put last year behind them and find more success this season.

“As a team, I want us to have not only a winning record, but a record that will put us in postseason play,” Leidel said. “And we want to win the A-10 championship, so that’s the ultimate goal.”

Thomas Haines can be reached at thaines@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @thainessports.

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