Running Point Kerri Moran '17 & Megan LeDuc '17

When Megan LeDuc and Kerri Moran arrived on East Hill in the fall of 2013, Dayna Smith, the Rebecca Quinn Morgan ’60 Head Coach of Women’s Basketball, wasn’t sure what to expect.

Each new recruiting class brings an element of the unknown. Coaches at Cornell can never be sure if a freshman will be able to handle the workload of being an Ivy League student-athlete and adjusting to the speed of the college game, all while fitting into the delicate balance of personalities in the team locker room.

But LeDuc and Moran posed a special challenge for Coach Smith. Never before had she recruited two true point guards in the same incoming class. Once they arrived on campus, she needed to figure out what to do with them.

The simple answer would be to have the two rookies – the only two point guards on the roster – battle for the position. One would be named the starter and the other would serve as the back-up. And for the most part, that is how that 2013-14 season played out. Moran grabbed the starting job and averaged nearly 30 minutes and 3.5 assists per game, while LeDuc came in off the bench.

Kerri Moran

“It was a tough adjustment for both of them,” says Smith. “Kerri had to adjust to the college game and lead an offense on a really senior-dominated team. For Megan, the adjustment came by not having that starting role or playing as much as she would have liked. That was really tough for her. But the two of them worked through it together.”

As much as the duo worked together and supported one another, LeDuc wasn’t satisfied with being on the bench. So she got to work.

“Megan is the most determined player on our team,” says Moran. “If she’s not hitting shots in a game, she’ll be in the gym the next day shooting. She plays one-on-one with Coach Burke all the time to make herself better. She has really developed her game so much during her time here.”

And that hard work put her in position to help the team when Moran sustained an injury prior to the start of the 2014-15 season. LeDuc moved into the starting point guard role and played so well that the coaching staff decided to move Moran to the shooting guard position. Despite never playing a position other than point guard, Moran adjusted quickly to the new role and her size, strength and shooting touch allowed the Big Red’s offense to become more dynamic.

“The injury to Kerri opened the door for Megan,” says Smith. “And she played so well that when Kerri came back, we realized we needed to play them together. We knew we wouldn’t lose anything by moving Kerri. With our offense, the majority of the time the shooting guard is receiving the first pass from the point. With Kerri’s ability to pass and score, it actually made our offense more dangerous. Kerri has so much skill that comes to her very naturally, but Megan just worked and scrapped to become our starting point guard.”

Megan LeDuc

The path that Moran and LeDuc took to getting on the floor together mirrored their paths to Cornell.

Moran was recruited very early in her high school career by teams like Harvard, Penn and Cornell. Coach Smith had her sights set on Moran early and pushed hard to get the Far Hills, N.J., native to commit to play for the Big Red. Smith jokes that she “followed Kerri around the country,” to attend her high school games and offered her a preferred admission slot in the spring of her junior year of high school. But with other offers on the table, Moran was taking her time to commit to a college.

LeDuc, on the other hand, had very few schools looking at her initially and had actually filled out an online recruiting questionnaire through the Cornell athletics website. It was LeDuc that called assistant coach Val Klopfer time and time again to set up a visit. Just like the player she is on the court, the Vienna, Va. native was tenacious in her approach to get noticed by the Big Red staff.

Luckily for LeDuc, Coach Smith had actually seen her play – in a game she was attending during her recruitment of Moran.

“When I saw them compete against each other, I really liked Megan, but I had more familiarity with Kerri because we had been recruiting her a long time,” says Smith. “Megan kept calling Val because she wanted to come for a visit. We’d already offered Kerri and we certainly weren’t going to pull that offer, but we talked long and hard about what to do, and Val said, ‘She’s a good point guard and we don’t know what’s going to happen with Kerri, so we need to meet with Megan.’”

The decision for Smith didn’t get any easier after a fantastic campus visit with LeDuc. With two forwards already committed to the class, the Big Red staff really wanted one point guard and one shooting guard to round out the recruits. Now they needed to decide if it would be better to take two true point guards, or stick with Moran, hoping she would commit, and then offer an admission slot to a shooting guard that they didn’t like as much as LeDuc.

“[Former Cornell men’s basketball coach] Steve Donahue always used to say, ‘Are they going to help you win basketball games? If they’re in the same position it doesn’t matter, if they’ll help you win,’” says Smith. “So we looked at Megan like that. We decided that if Kerri did commit and ran the point for four years, we thought Megan had such a different game that it would still make us a better team.”

Now at the end of their careers, there is little doubt that the gamble has paid off for Smith. The duo has emerged as arguably the best backcourt in the history of Cornell women’s basketball and has helped the Class of 2017 to become the winningest in program history. And it’s the pair’s differences that have helped make them so successful.

Moran is a lefty who is outstanding in the team’s half-court offense. She sees the floor well and knows how to attack an opponent’s defense. She is also deceptively athletic and has a quick first step that allows her to get to the rim or knock down jumpers off a screen.

LeDuc is a righty that plays with such speed that she’s hard to guard. She’s most dangerous in transition and is able to find open teammates before the opponent’s defense can get set. She has also developed a lethal 3-point shot and heads into the final weekend of the regular season ranking first in the Ivy League and 18th in the nation with a .427 shooting percentage beyond the arc.

They also have extremely different personalities that are evident in how they approach their teammates on and off the court.

“Kerri was more vocal early in her career, and Megan has had to learn to do it,” says Smith. “Kerri is the drill sergeant, and Megan picks up the pieces. Kerri will step up and call someone out in front of the whole team, and Megan likes to talk to people one-on-one when something needs to be addressed. Kerri isn’t afraid to challenge or hold people accountable, and Megan leads by example.”

Despite the differences in their personalities, it is their similarly intense desire to win that has allowed them to put their egos aside and make room for each other on the court.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to win,” says LeDuc. “We’re both intense and extremely competitive, but in the end, I don’t think Kerri or I care about our individual stats. We might be different in how we play and in our personalities, but Kerri and I are on the same page on a lot of things. Mostly, we just want the team to be successful.”

And while neither LeDuc nor Moran care about their individual stats, their numbers are impressive, as they are the only pair of four-year teammates at Cornell to record at least 800 points and 300 assists. They enter the final regular season weekend of their career ranking in the top 10 in Cornell history for assists, with Moran sitting in fourth place all-time (410) and LeDuc in eighth (332). They’re even closer on the all-time scoring list, as LeDuc is 20th overall with 838 points and Moran is right behind her at 831.

Just like their proximity in the record book, LeDuc and Moran are also close off the court.

“If someone from outside our program walked into the gym, they wouldn’t know they were friends but they have such an underlying respect for one another,” says Smith. “And we see that because they’ve been through a lot together. You can see that when the going gets tough, they really lean on each other and look to one another. It’s a unique relationship. It took time to develop, but we’re a better program for it.”

The pair will look to lean on each other one last time as they lead Cornell into a critical final Ivy League weekend vs. Yale and Brown at Newman Arena. With a record of 6-6 in the Ancient Eight, the Big Red sits fourth in the conference standings, a finish that would give it the final spot in the first-ever Ivy League Basketball Tournament. But sitting just one game back are the Bulldogs and Bears.

To earn back-to-back wins, the Big Red will need to rely on its experience in the form of a starting line-up that features five seniors, a stingy defense that ranks 69th in the nation, and a balanced offense that features the program’s all-time leading scorer in Nia Marshall ’17. But perhaps more important than all those things will be the performance of the two players with the ball in their hands the majority of the time – Moran and LeDuc. The pair has stepped up in a critical moments too many times to count, and this weekend will provide them with one last chance in Newman Arena to validate the decision that Coach Smith made five years ago.

“At the time, the decision to take both of them in the same class was so hard to make,” says Smith. “But now it just seems crazy to think that we ever hesitated. I can’t even imagine not having both of them. It wasn’t always easy and it took time to develop the level of comfort we have now, but our situation is so unique that it continues to be a benefit for us on the court. And hopefully that will be true of this weekend as well.”

Cornell will take on Yale at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 3, before welcoming the Bears at 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 4.

Credits:

Pictures courtesy: Patrick Shanahan; Darl Zehr; Dave Burbank

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