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Continuing the Legacy
The following article was first featured in the February/March edition of Flames Illustrated. Rachel McLeod will attempt to help the Lady Flames clinch the No. 1 seed for the Big South Women's Basketball Championship with a win over UNC Asheville this evening. She will be honored prior to the 7 p.m. contest, along with Kittery Maine and Dymond Morgan, during the Senior Night ceremony.
Ask an average Liberty women's basketball fan how the Lady Flames have been able to win 13 Big South Conference championships in the last 14 years, and you're likely to hear names of star players like Elena Kisseleva, Katie Feenstra and Megan Frazee. However, other players, like senior captain Rachel McLeod, have also played an integral role in continuing Liberty's legacy of excellence.
McLeod, one of only three seniors on this year's team, understands the importance of her role quite well. "I definitely see my role on this year's team as one of leadership, because our team is really young," the Texan explained. "I'm trying to help steer our team in the direction other leaders before me have and continue the legacy of excellence that has been established."
McLeod, who has two older sisters and four younger sisters in her own family, learned some valuable lessons from an older sister figure (Allyson Fasnacht) on the team and is currently passing some of those same lessons on to a younger sister figure, Emily Frazier.
When McLeod joined the Lady Flames in 2007-08, she served as the understudy to wily senior point guard Allyson Fasnacht. Fasnacht had been a key cog in the Lady Flames' Sweet 16 run in 2005 and played an important role in mentoring McLeod.
"I learned a lot from Allyson," stated McLeod. "I learned from playing with her and watching her on the court. She was really steady and consistent in everything she did."
The lessons from Fasnacht helped McLeod make an immediate impact. In just the second game of her collegiate career, McLeod played 30 minutes at North Carolina A&T. She tallied nine points, five rebounds, three assists and four steals, helping the Lady Flames become the only visiting team to win at North Carolina A&T all season. The next weekend, she totaled 11 assists and only three turnovers during Liberty's three wins at the National City Xavier Invitational.
Fast forward to this season, and McLeod has now embraced the role of teacher, with freshman point guard Emily Frazier as her primary pupil. McLeod and Frazier share a special connection, as they have known each other since McLeod was 12 and were teammates for the Homeschool Christian Youth Association (HCYA) team in Houston.
Like McLeod, Frazier was thrust into an important role early on in her first season. She took the reins as the Lady Flames starting point guard in the fourth game of the season, before facing Top 10 teams Texas A&M and Baylor in her second and third starts.
"I have tried to pass the lessons I learned from Allyson on to Emily," noted McLeod. "I have told her that she has to be a rock for the rest of her teammates and has to be a leader on the court. The team looks to its point guard for security."
If McLeod sounds a bit like a coach, it's no accident. "I would love to be able to coach after I leave Liberty," said McLeod. "I see myself coaching high school basketball somewhere. There are so many coaches who have affected my life that I would love to help touch others' lives in the same way."
Speaking specifically of Liberty head coach Carey Green and his staff, McLeod noted, "Our coaches really care for us as people. They care about how we're doing off the court and how we're developing as young women, instead of just basketball players."
McLeod has done very well for herself off the court during her four years at Liberty. She boasts a cumulative grade-point average over 3.3 and is on track to graduate with a communications major in May.
Just two days after McLeod receives her diploma, she will again be up on stage for a most important ceremony. McLeod is engaged to marry Bo Mason on May 16.
How is McLeod juggling wedding preparations with her basketball and academic commitments? "Everyone calls us a little crazy for wanting to get married the same weekend as graduation, but I'm definitely not a ‘bridezilla,' so that makes things a lot easier," McLeod explained. "My mom and my sister Rebekah are helping me a lot with the wedding. Also, this semester is not too hectic for me, because I have taken so many classes in summer school the last few years."
Before McLeod receives her wedding ring, she would like to help the Lady Flames earn their fourth straight Big South championship ring. The season did not start out too well, as injuries and a challenging schedule led to a 4-7 record through 11 games. Now, though, Liberty has regrouped and found its way back to the top of the Big South standings, thanks in part to McLeod's role as a leader.
"We knew we had to persevere," recollected McLeod. "We knew the corrections we had to make so we would be able to succeed. It came down to executing the aspects of the game plan. I tried to encourage all of the players through that difficult stretch."
When the 2010-11 season ends and McLeod's time as a Lady Flame comes to a close, her name won't dominate the Liberty women's basketball record book. However, she has been an important part of three Big South championship teams and is playing a vital leadership role as the Lady Flames chase another ring in the coming weeks.
Paul Carmany is an assistant athletic communications director for Liberty University, who covers women's basketball.