Even before serving as captain last season for UMass, Leidel’s leadership experience runs deeper. During her time at Woodhaven High School under coach Rodney Scharboneau, Leidel led her team to an overall 40-7 record over her two years as captain, setting the Woodhaven school record in points with 1,526 while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average.
“Even though she was a better player than every girl on her team, they still wanted to play hard for her,” said Scharboneau. “That was a big deal because she couldn’t do it by herself, no matter how good you are. So, you have to get into a situation as a team captain where you show your teammates that you care about them, and they need to believe that you care about them as people first, then the basketball stuff falls in place. I think she was able to do that, and that had nothing to do with me.”
Scharboneau recalls Leidel as the first one in the gym and the last one to leave — often having to be kicked out — usually staying up late at night to complete homework assignments.
“[Leidel] was definitely a lead by example leader just because of the way she was as a person, but I think she got better as the years went on, communicating and being a leader in all different ways,” Scharboneau said. “If that’s the role she’s going to fill with her current team in college, they’re going to benefit from that. Her senior year she really pulled our team together and everybody was hitting on all cylinders and in line together. Part of that was because Hailey was our captain. She had everybody on the team working together. It was a great thing.”
Being off the court didn’t hurt Leidel’s leadership qualities either. Even when she would get into foul trouble, or simply need a rest, her voice and influence was still recognized from the bench.
“Whenever she would be out, whether she was in foul trouble or whatever, she didn’t let that stop her from adding value to the team,” added Scharboneau. “Even when she was on the sideline, she showed what a leader does, what a good captain does. She encouraged her teammates that were on the floor. She was like having an assistant coach on the sideline.”
Leidel gets some of her inspiration as a captain from three-time WNBA champion Sue Bird. An 11-time WNBA all-star, all-time assist leader and winner of the 2002 Naismith Award for best college player, Bird is Leidel’s role model, her standard.
“I’ve been watching the last couple of years of Sue Bird,” Leidel said. “I’ve just been watching her on how she leads on the court because I feel like I do things really well off the court and in practices but like in those games she literally just takes over the games, so I just try to learn from her in that way and stuff.”
For Jessica George, her rise to captaincy is a bit different. A state champion her sophomore year and team captain her senior year in high school, George’s experience changed a bit when starting at UMass.
As a freshman, George didn’t see the floor nearly as much as Leidel did in her rookie season, averaging only 3.3 minutes a game compared to Leidel’s 38.3. After becoming accustomed to college and UMass during her freshman season, the UMass coaching staff was replaced and revamped going into her sophomore year.
During her sophomore campaign, she saw a large uptick in minutes due to a lack of team depth that resulted in a disappointing 9-21 record. With the 2017-18 team gathering its highest win total since 2006-07, George has been through enough to have the experience and knowledge to be a captain.
“When coach Verdi told me I was going to be a captain this season, it just kind of took me back to freshman year until now and everything that I’ve been through, and everything that’s happened with the team and us gradually progressing into a better team and better program,” George said. “It just made me think back to like ‘wow this is not at all what I had envisioned’ from my four years being here, but I’m 100 percent grateful for it and appreciative of everything that’s happened. It’s taught lessons and I’m excited for this season.”
Growing up as the middle child in a family of seven, leadership is something rooted in George’s upbringing. Through her experiences growing up in big household, George has certainly learned from her family and how the standards she holds for herself affect the choices and decisions of those around her.
“Having three younger siblings, it definitely puts into my mind like I can’t do certain things because I know they’ll do it if they see me doing it, especially if it’s a bad thing or whatever,” George said. “So I just kind of keep that in my mind. Learning from my older siblings as well, I know that definitely created the person I am now because I learned from things that they may have done or things that they taught me to do, so growing up in a big family it helps.”
Not only does George get her inspiration as a captain from her siblings, but from her mother as well.
“I have a couple of athletes I look up to, but for me personally, [I look up to] my mom,” George said. “She’s the person who kind of keeps my head straight and I go to her about practices and anything I have as a captain, or issues that I’m dealing with. She gives me a lot of advice and keeps me in a positive path. It just keeps me grounded, and it keeps me motivated to do the same thing with my team, my mom plays a huge role in it.”
Though both Leidel and George certainly have different paths to becoming captains of the UMass team, communication between the two always makes sure their goals and expectations are in alignment, and fall under Verdi’s expectations for the team.