Following devastating ankle injury, Stapleton growing into scoring threat

Roster turnover in college basketball has programs routinely searching for recruits during the regular season and offseason so they can put a quality bas­ketball team on the court.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s women’s basketball program lost a single senior to graduation from the 2012- 13 team, a situation many Division 1 basketball programs would love to have.

The Crimson Hawks retained a sizable portion of their lineup from the 2012-13 season, and one of those returning players is junior guard Leslie Stapleton (junior, biology/pre-med).

Stapleton returns to the Crimson Hawks after a season that saw her com­pete in only two games of action due to an ankle injury.

The injury, Stapleton said, was “the most devastating thing” that has hap­pened to her.

“I’ve been playing year-round since I was six years old,” Stapleton said. “For me to all of a sudden quit playing, it was so hard.”

Stapleton said the injury took an emotional toll.

“After my surgery, people would ask me ‘How does it feel?’” Stapleton said. “I said ‘OK,’ but emotionally I was not ok. Physically, the pain was subsiding, but emotionally I was still hurt about it.

“Watching games when we lost made it harder. It was hard knowing that you could and should be out there and you are not.’”

Prior to the injury-shortened season, she built a solid freshman season in 2011-12. Stapleton ranked fourth on the team in scoring by averaging eight points per game.

She started in eight of the 25 contests she played in and produced solid num­bers from beyond the arc.

That season she was second on the Crimson Hawks with a 39.3 3-point percentage and 33 3-pointers made. Those statistics were also ranked high among the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference that season.

The Indiana native has been an effi­cient scorer at the collegiate level and also at the high school level.

Stapleton was a leader and an efficient scorer for Indiana Area Senior High School. In her senior season, she averaged 17.2 points per game and guided the Lady Indians through the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League.

She was a teammate of current Crimson Hawks guard Marita Mathe (junior, safety science) during her time at Indiana Area Senior High School.

Although she has been a consistent scorer for the Crimson Hawks and the Lady Indians, Stapleton at first did not want to enroll at IUP.

“I never really planned on coming here,” Stapleton said. “My parents want­ed me to get out of town and experience other places.

“It worked out this way; it felt like the right choice and it was the right choice.”

The Indiana native looked elsewhere, including Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference newcomer Seton Hill University.

“My cousin actually plays there,” Stapleton said. “I was looking at some other Division III schools and some small Division I schools. IUP was the right fit for me.”

Coming into the 2013-14 basket­ball season, the Crimson Hawks went through a culture change after previous head coach Jeff Dow and his assistants were relieved of their duties.

Accomplished head coach Tom McConnell was hired and changed the system.

The returning Stapleton carried on in the offseason and performed the work­outs she and the team were used to.

“Everyone has their own routine, but we knew that would help us prepare,” Stapleton said. “We did not know what to expect from the new coaches, but everything worked out.”

Now, Stapleton has returned to the Crimson Hawks lineup and picked up where she left off. She has averaged 9.4 points per game this season and has been red hot from 3-point range, converting at 39.2 percent. Stapleton scores 1.8 3-point field goals per game, which is 14th in the PSAC.

She has contributed for the Crimson Hawks in important offensive areas, but Stapleton said she has been working on other areas of her game. “It is better to be well-rounded,” Stapleton said. “Some people may consider me to be just a shooter, but I’ve been working on other parts of my game to become a well-rounded player.”

McConnell has featured Stapleton as a bench player and has put her in a starting role. She said that she has no preference between a starting role and a bench role.

“It doesn’t matter to me because I’m still getting the same minutes,” Stapleton said. “I’m completely fine with either, and I obviously respect the coach’s season and whatever works.”

On a team where experience and leadership define some of the charac­teristics, Stapleton said that McConnell has looked to everyone on the team to be a leader.

“He says in practices that everyone leads; someone may be a vocal leader and another may lead by example,” Stapleton said. “It’s not just one person. Even the youngest players can be leaders in their own way, and it has nothing to do with age.”

IUP returns to the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex Saturday, Jan. 25 when they host rival Slippery Rock University.