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Leap of faith

by Matthew Ondesko: Managing Editor

Every freshmen wants to contribute right away. When they step on the field they want to make a difference.

UMass Lowell field hockey player Madison Leeper didn’t know what to expect when she got on campus her freshman season. She was just hoping to contribute anyway possible. Those valuable minutes her first season was a springboard for things to come.

“Getting minutes during my freshman year helped with my breakout this season. When I reflect on myself from last year I notice I was very timid in keeping the ball. I trusted my teammates so much that I would receive the ball and immediately give it to someone else,” stated Leeper. “Also, my hockey IQ was not up to speed and I made things harder on the field for myself. My freshman year was the year to ask many questions, make many mistakes, and learn from them. And the spring season was all about learning and trying new things. This year I felt I capitalized on my mistakes from last year and corrected them with the help of the spring season and in the summer.”

Leeper made mistakes, but she also grew in to the player you see on the field today. She had a huge jump her second season for a UMass Lowell team that someone would say exceeded expectations.

One of the biggest adjustments she made during her sophomore season was her confidence on the field. Her confidence went up as the season went on. Every time Leeper stepped on the field, you had a feeling that something good was going to happen.

“The press clicked for me this year. I now know the press like the back of my hand, I am the one who answers all the questions, and teammates come up to me and ask me what I would do in this situation and what they can do,” stated Leeper. “As the center striker I had to make quick decisions for my team that would benefit us, and I think it also helped with the communication from the attacking center mid. Also, I was having more confidence on the ball this year. I owned the ball every time I had it, and I had the confidence to go forward most of the time. So, if I was able to win the ball off the press I would immediately go to goal which definitely helped us this season.”

It is an amazing feeling to be in the zone like Leeper was all year. It seemed like every time she stepped on the field she couldn’t do anything wrong. Not many athletes get to have that feeling.

That feeling of just dominating the game whenever she gets out there.

“It feels amazing when I’m in the zone. I feel like I can control the game and which side we want the ball to stay on. When I’m in the zone I stay serious but also positive. Being the first line of defense, it’s not always about getting the ball for yourself, maybe it’s forcing a ball to another teammate who could capitalize better,” stated Leeper. “I never want to change my routine, whether it be my routine before the game or during. Field hockey is such a fast-paced game you always just have to react and I think my body has muscle memories on how to react.”

All the handwork Leeper put in during the offseason, and the summer, paid off as she earned a few awards when the season came to an end. Taking home first team American East honors was a big deal.

It showed her that she could play at this level. Never that Leeper doubted herself. She knew she had what it takes to compete at this level as a true student-athlete. This was just a little validation.

“It is an honor to receive America East's first team as a sophomore, all the hard work during the spring, early workouts in the summer, and preseason to build has paid off,” stated Leeper. “It’s very rewarding after my freshman year season being so timid, and at the end, I knew I had more to show but just didn’t know how to apply it to our game I think this year I showed it and I was rewarded with all the hard work during the spring, summer, and pre-season when it starts with the run test.”

What’s more impressive is Leeper is doing all this, and she isn’t the tallest player on the field. Height doesn’t mean a lot when it comes to competing. She has been used to being 4-foot-11-inches for a while now.

Leeper knows being taller would help her in some situations, but she uses her speed and quickness to get by the defenders. On the offensive side, Leeper is already low to the ground, so why not use it to her advantage.

“I’ve been the small one my whole life, I realize I need to use my speed and my quick reactivity effectively. On the offensive side of the field being able to be low to the ground almost at all times helps with my receiving and finding those small pockets,” stated Leeper. “In the Cal game, I was able to score on the post because I was so low I cradled to then redirect the ball into the cage. Also when other girls see me they underestimate how quick I can be which I try to use to my advantage.”

Leeper is doing all this while also continuing to kill it in the classroom. A nursing major, Leeper can use field hockey as a way to get away from the rigors of the academic stress that a student-athlete has.

“If I’m being honest, it has been very difficult. Shannon and the coaching staff are very supportive and understand there will be days when I am exhausted because I was up all night doing homework, or I have so much on my mind that I get flustered with myself easily during practice,” stated Leeper. “I don’t think my academics have affected my field hockey during games. This is the time my brain shifts to a different gear and focuses on something else. Sometimes during practice, I notice that hockey is my break. It’s the place where I have fun, I enjoy being on the pitch, and the place to get rid of all this stress and get my mind cleared.”

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