Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru
BELTON- It has been said that great learners make great coaches. If that is the case, then Bethany McLeod has a bright future ahead. The UMHB senior guard is entering the final regular season game of her collegiate career in Saturday’s home duel with ETBU, but her involvement in basketball, a sport she has played since age five, is far from over.
“Basketball is a huge passion of mine,” said McLeod. “I want to coach to be able to change the lives of the players because my high school coach, Chris Lange, was so influential in my life.”
A future math teacher who plans to coach at the high school level, the Liberty Hill, Texas native, has not waited to gain experience in the coaching field, even while her playing career has unfolded. This past summer, she coached an Austin-based select team. And while the season has progressed, McLeod, one of the team’s three seniors, has taken it upon herself to spend extra time in the film room, learning from head coach Mark Morefield and assistant coach Kendra Foreman.
“I go up and watch film with Coach Morefield all the time, and do workouts with Kendra, getting their insight on different things,” McLeod said.
Even coming back to Belton after her time coaching in the summer, McLeod’s perspective changed in the way she saw things on the floor and her understanding of what the coaching staff preaches on a daily basis was elevated.
“Coming back to play this year, I realized so many different things that my coach was saying,” McLeod said. “I was like, ‘Wow, that makes sense from his point of view. From the way we see it.”
That perspective has allowed her to grow in her role as a leader during the course of this past season. On a roster that features a number of freshmen and five transfers, McLeod has led by example, something seen first hand by head coach Mark Morefield.
“Here’s a player who after games will break her own film down,” Morefield said of McLeod. “She’ll ask questions and want to sit down with us and go over it. She has a strong desire to get better.”
That “desire” has produced results, results that have helped guide UMHB to 20 striaght victories and a 19-0 conference record heading into Saturday’s contest. On certain nights, such as in a Jan. 18 road matchup at Concordia, McLeod is the team’s go-to scorer. On others, such as in UMHB’s first win of the season at ETBU on Jan. 13, it is her defense that comes up most critical. And that is only a snapshot of what has made the Crusaders incredibly successful. Roles vary from night to night, but with a player-driven culture, the standard of excellence never wavers.
“I would say we’ve definitely improved on sharing the ball and utilizing our teammates more than we did last year,” McLeod said. “It’s been really cool to see how people grew over the summer and changed as a player.”
For McLeod specifically, that growth has come in her shooting ability. Entering this season, she had never scored more than 13 points in a game. She tallied 23 at Ozarks. She had never made more than five shots in a contest. This season, her new career-best is 10. The 5’9 guard also leads the Cru in three-point shooting percentage, at 35 percent.
“I’d say my most improved area is probably shooting wise. My freshman year, I did not shoot the ball at all,” McLeod recalls. “This season alone, I’ve shot more than I have in the past three seasons together. My confidence in my shooting has gone up.”
That improvement, however, is not necessarily a natural progression. Heading into her final collegiate season, McLeod was determined to make sure she would be a reliable starter, and put in hours of work refining her shot. This season will be her last go at playing in the NCAA Tournament, and for this senior group, “reaching the tournament” is more than just a cliche answer to a standard preseason question. The last time the D-III national tournament was contested, the Crusaders did not decide the end to their season by a win or a loss. That decision was out of their hands.
“Getting there as a sophomore was so exciting, and having it canceled was just devastating,” McLeod said. “I knew that we were going to end up beating that team.
“This being my last season, realizing I’m not going to get to play anymore, has been such a strong reminder. This is my last chance to get that ring and get all the way to the national championship game.”
Regardless of how the rest of this season unfolds, McLeod has relished her time in Belton. Because, more than growing as an athlete, she has grown in her faith, something that played a key role in her decision to commit to UMHB in the first place.
“I feel like at UMHB the past four years, I have been able to explore faith for myself and grow closer to God on a more personal level than I was before,” McLeod said. “Being away at college gives us the chance to explore our faith for ourselves and not based on our parents.”
Her faith no doubt has played into her servant leadership role within the program. It is not uncommon to see McLeod take a moment during a stoppage within a game to point something out to one of the team’s younger players, or call the team together in the midst of a tough stretch.
“I would see that as a chance to re-emphasize something they might be struggling with or just point out something from a different point of view,” McLeod said when asked about leading through mentorship.
That mentality is a characteristic that will serve her well as she transitions into both coaching and teaching,which in many ways are one in the same. She has pursued mathematics as a major, in part because “it always came easy” to her.
‘Does the math background affect the way she approaches her time on the basketball court?’, she is asked.
“With math there is usually only one right answer,” McLeod says. “So it makes me somewhat of a perfectionist. In basketball it causes me to get upset when I miss a shot because my perfectionist self comes to the court.”
At the same time, however, Morefield believes her commitment to excellence will serve her well as a coach, and has already helped the way she leads the team. At times it takes high expectations to produce high-caliber results. And that is what both McLeod and the Cru are pursuing heading into these final weeks of February and down the road in March.
“Each year, Bethany has grown in her leadership to make sure our culture and what our expectations are remain constant within the team,” Morefield said. “She sets an example and holds others accountable. Those qualities are needed also in being a successful coach.”
Riley Zayas is the managing editor of True To The Cru. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.