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Senior Leah Zeisner is the midst of her second season as a captain for the up-and-coming North Haven girls’ basketball team. Leah is a member of the Math, Music, and Spanish honor societies at the high school. She also plays the flute in the wind ensemble and is involved with the environmental club Project Green, as well as the Humanitarian Club. (Photo courtesy of Leah Zeisner )
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Leah Zeisner learned a lot about what it takes to be a leader while serving as a junior captain for the North Haven girls’ basketball team last season. This year, Leah is reprising her role as a captain and using what she gained from her previous experience to lead the Indians as the only senior on their roster. She’s also leading North Haven on a big-time turnaround that’s seen the team progress from four wins last year to seven victories this season with a few games still remaining.
Leah says she’s having a great time during her final campaign at North Haven. Leah’s pumped up that the Indians are playing crucial games down the stretch with an aim to make the playoffs for the first time in four years.
“It’s nice because, it’s my senior year, and it’s making it more enjoyable. I didn’t want to have my last year be another 4-16 season,” Leah says. “We had the chance to turn this year into a positive thing, and I’m excited that everyone on the team is making this year the most memorable year it can be.”
Leah, a 5-foot-9 forward, has been playing basketball since the 3rd grade and is in her third season as a varsity starter for North Haven. Last winter, Leah was named a junior captain and led the Indians in tandem with senior captain Kylie Brandt. Leah mostly led by example, but would offer encouraging words to her teammates when times were tough. Now that she’s the only senior in the captain’s chair, Leah has grown into a more vocal leader who continues to keep positivity at the forefront.
“I don’t have a natural instinct to speak my mind and tell people what to do, so having that extra year to start becoming a leader has definitely helped me this year,” says Leah, who captains North Haven with juniors Colleen Lucey and Laura Petrafesa. “I feel like I’m always the loudest one and trying to encourage people to pick everyone up. At halftime, I’ll go over what we we’re doing good, and what we have to fix in the second half. I just keep everyone positive, no matter the situation.”
One of Leah’s objectives as a captain is to foster a strong sense of synergy among the Indians. Leah wants North Haven to be a tight-knit team that communicates seamlessly—characteristics that pay dividends for the Indians when they employ their frenetic press on defense. Leah says she’s pleased with how everyone on the squad is jelling together so nicely this season.
“We’ve really bonded as a team, and I feel like that’s allowing us to work together better on the court,” Leah says. “We know each other, we know what people are going to do, and we communicate more as a team. That helps us more with scoring and defending, especially with the press, where there needs to be a lot of communication. So, if we’re bonding as a team and doing things together as a team, that has a positive impact.”
A prime example of North Haven’s unity came when the Indians rallied for a 52-50 victory in Guilford two weeks ago. The Indians trailed by nine entering the fourth quarter, but didn’t let down. Instead, North Haven stepped up and outscored Guilford 21-10 during the final period to walk off the floor with a pivotal win in the team’s playoff chase.
“We never accepted the loss. We were down by 15 at one point, but we never gave up, as opposed to past years, where it would have just felt like another loss. We showed that we’re a different team than in other years. We don’t take the loss easily. We work for the win,” says Leah. “We were all really proud of ourselves for fighting until the end, and it paid off. It just increased our confidence even more, knowing that we can come back.”
Leah finished the night with 11 points, eight rebounds, and four steals when North Haven defeated Guilford. While she’s officially listed as a forward, Leah does a little bit of everything for the Indians. In previous seasons, Leah mostly patrolled the paint and felt she got lost in the shuffle while going up against taller players. Now, Leah spends more time out on the wing, where she has the option to take it to the cup or pull up for a mid-range jumper. Of course, Leah has no problem passing to an open teammate, either.
“My primary focus is winning, whether it’s me scoring or someone else scoring. So, I’m not always looking to score. I’ll take it if it’s open, but my focus is on us getting the best play that we can get with each offense,” Leah says. “Every point counts, and we have to make sure we get our best looks. If that isn’t me, I’ll pass to someone else and get the assist. I’m more focused on playing as a team and winning as a team.”
Head Coach Ray Degnan says that Leah’s selflessness has helped her develop into an exemplary leader during the past two seasons. Degnan adds that Leah’s leadership is typified by the effort she gives from the opening tip through the final buzzer on a game-in, game-out basis.
“Leah has proven tireless for two years now. She plays the 28th minute with the same tenacity, focus, and energy as the first. I hope this role modeling by example is something younger players in our program and throughout the town recognize and seek to mirror as they move forward in the sport,” Coach Degnan says. “I have been so fortunate to watch a quiet competitor in Leah’s freshman season become the inspiring young woman we are so very proud to call our captain in her senior year. It has truly been a pleasure to be a part of her career.”
As she enters the home stretch of her high school career, Leah’s looking for North Haven to get that one last win it needs to secure a berth in the Class L State Tournament. Still, no matter how this season turns out, Leah feels proud that she’s helped the Indians take a huge step on a path toward potential prominence.
“I really hope we get to states. I feel like that would be visual proof of how much we’ve turned things around this season, ending the year on a positive note and in a good spot,” says Leah. “But whether we get to states or not, I feel the most important thing is knowing that we’ve had a good season and that everyone is working hard to put themselves in position to be even better next year. Our team has flipped the mindset, and I’m really grateful that it happened during my senior year.”
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