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Embracing a New Role

January 20, 2010  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Rachel McLeod has started all 16 games for the Lady Flames, who are one of four Big South teams with one loss in conference play.

Rachel McLeod has started all 16 games for the Lady Flames, who are one of four Big South teams with one loss in conference play.

This feature article appeared in the third edition of Flames Illustrated for the 2009-10 basketball season. McLeod has scored in double figures in each of her last two appearances for the 12-4 Lady Flames, boosting her career-hig scoring average to 5.8 ppg.

Stepping outside of your comfort zone is a challenge for most people. But doing so usually builds character, brings adventure and teaches valuable lessons.

For Rachel McLeod, the 2009-10 basketball season has brought not only a new position on the court, but a new leadership role for the Lady Flames, as well.

The 5-10 junior from Houston, Texas, is adjusting to her new spot as a shooting guard, as well as taking on the responsibility of being a team captain.

Going from a point guard to a shooting guard, McLeod noted, has been quite a transition.

"It's just been a different mindset for me," she explained. "I played point guard all through high school and my first two years of college. But I've enjoyed it, because it's refreshing and different.

"And someone else has to deal with the pressure of the defense. All I do is shoot the ball," she added with a laugh.

McLeod's infectious smile and genuine personality, combined with her intense focus and competitiveness, automatically make her an ideal leader for this year's young team. It's a role she embraces.

"Growing up, I was always a leader on my teams," she said. "It's been a little bit different translating that to the college level, but it's something that God has been preparing me for my whole life." McLeod says she wants her younger teammates to be able to depend on her day in and day out, and to serve as a source of encouragement throughout the school year.

McLeod had a different upbringing than most. The fourth-oldest of eight children was home schooled by her mother, Janet, alongside her siblings. She says being home schooled prepared her well for college, as it taught her time management and responsibility.

McLeod was a multi-sport athlete as a high-school student, also competing in cross country, swimming and softball before ultimately deciding to focus solely on basketball for the Homeschool Christian Youth Association (HCYA).

"Basketball brought me the most joy," she remembered. "I liked that it was more competitive."

It's only fitting that McLeod chose basketball, as it's been a popular choice among her family members. Her grandfather, George McLeod, is in the TCU Hall of Fame and enjoyed a brief career in the NBA. Her father, Mark, was a standout high school player and her older brother, Josiah, played competitively as well.

Her first memory of playing the sport was as an awkward 10-year-old who wanted to follow in her family members' footsteps. "I was really bad when I first started playing," she said with a laugh. "I was the person who was trying to play defense when my team was on offense. My dad likes to tell that story."

McLeod has come a long way since then. After considering schools like Rice and South Alabama, McLeod chose Liberty due to her desire to play for a Christian coach, and Carey Green fit that criteria. Also, she says, she had a strong feeling that Liberty is where God wanted her to be, and she says she felt at peace when she made her decision.

McLeod jumped right into the action as a freshman, playing in all 32 games and serving as Green's most-often used backcourt substitute, averaging 16.6 minutes per outing. She averaged 4.3 points per game and tallied 66 assists.

As a sophomore, the Texas native appeared in 30 contests and recorded her first five career starts. She tied for second on the team with a career-high 73 assists, and played the most minutes of any Liberty guard off the bench. She scored a career-high 13 points in a Big South win over Coastal Carolina on February 21, 2009.

This season, after starting the first seven games, McLeod was averaging a career-high 6.1 points per game.

Green is happy with his starting two guard, and will continue to look to her to be a major force for the Lady Flames this season.

"Her experience over the past two years has been invaluable to the team, and that's the reason she's currently a major contributor," Green said. "She's adjusting to a different position on the floor, and yet she still has the understanding of what we need. Truthfully, that can be awkward for her, but I have a lot of confidence in her being able to make that adjustment."

McLeod also has high expectations for herself. "I need to be more of a scorer," she said. "Devon (Brown) has filled that role since Megan (Frazee) left. So I need to help Devon fill that gap with scoring. But I also need to be able to get rebounds and assists each game."

McLeod admits that this year has been a rebuilding year for the program, and the squad has gone back to the basics of the game, which she says has been beneficial for everybody. And she says that despite the success of the Liberty women's basketball program in recent years, this team is not affected by outside pressure.

"I think for this year, we have less pressure because no one is really expecting anything from us," she said. "But with our own expectations, that definitely isn't the case. "

So despite a younger, less-experienced team, McLeod has every intention of continuing the Lady Flames' streak of Big South domination.

As a leader, she must motivate her teammates, but she also has to find ways to motivate herself. But, she says, that's not very hard to do.

"I just love playing basketball, so that's a big motivation," she said. "But also, my family motivates me. I want to be able to use the abilities that God has given me to the highest level."

McLeod talks to her dad on the phone before every game, something that has become a pregame ritual she never strays from. "He's been a great example for me," she said, "in basketball, but also life in general."

As McLeod becomes more comfortable in her new roles on the basketball court, she will rely on focus and perseverance to lead her team through the rest of the schedule. And she says being an athlete will prepare her for life after college.

"Competitiveness teaches you how to deal with many different situations," she said. "It builds character and self-esteem, and it really helps with every aspect in life."
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Jennifer Shelton is an Athletics Communications graduate assistant.