The moment began far before the clock glowed 13:22. It didn’t begin with the toss, either.
It began before the first beat of the pregame soundtrack, the nauseating weightlessness of butterflies, and even before the thick layers of ankle tape beneath a pair of black Nike high tops.
It began before every pregame speech, locker room Clif Bar, and turkey sandwich from the Castleton Deli.
Perhaps the moment was born over 20 years ago at Manhattan College, where daddy’s little girl became mesmerized by the game watching her father coach the men’s division I basketball team. Or maybe it was in Amherst, Mass. where a pair of freckle-faced sisters played one-on-one for countless hours, sharing their passion for the game.
But for Castleton senior women’s basketball player, Alyssa Leonard, it has never been about her in a single moment.
“I don’t think that’s ever been her personality,” said Head Coach Tim Barrett.
According to Barrett, in the Spartans’ Nov. 23 home opener against Williams College, Leonard’s focus was not on breaking out of triple digits in her personal scoring career. Though just five points shy of the marker, he said her concern was when the final buzzer sounded, where the next digit would fall in the team record column.
Nonetheless, the moment came.
Seven minutes and 18 seconds after the tip, the Spartans pushed down the court and worked the rock around the horn to find Leonard spotting up just outside the three-point line.
“As soon as she released the ball I smiled because I knew it was going in,” said Brianna Leonard, who surprised her sister at the game.
Leonard netted the three to become the 13th player in the program’s history to hit 1,000 career points. The last player to make the milestone was Vanessa Powers, in the latter part of the 2011-2012 season, but Leonard’s admission into the quadruple-digit club came just three games into her senior season.
“I’ve seen a lot of players go into their 1,000 point game where they were nervous. I didn’t see that in Alyssa,” Barrett said. “The points came in the flow of the game.”
After the ball dropped through the net, Williams called a timeout and with a lull in the game Leonard’s achievement was announced.
“The energy, the feel in the gym, it was just an uproar,” said senior teammate Heather Murdough.
The crowd erupted with applause and turned to a sea of signs and cutouts of her face as Leonard and Barrett posed with the game ball for a picture taken by the Director of College Relations and Sports Information, Jeff Weld. Leonard said having her former assistant coach come onto the court to snap the picture was just another sweet detail she’ll always remember.
“Looking in the stands and seeing a lot of cutouts of my face definitely put a smile on my face,” she said with a laugh.
But she said the greatest detail of all was that among the crowd was her family, including her parents, three siblings, and even some extended family, who were stepping onto campus for the first time.
With all four children playing winter sports, two at the collegiate level, the season has the Leonards running across New England to catch as many games as possible. For them to witness this achievement was nearly indescribable for Leonard, who didn’t know exactly who would make the game until she hit the court for warm-ups.
“I originally didn’t think that I would be able to see it in person, but it worked out and I was extremely excited to surprise her,” Brianna said. “When she saw me along with some more of our family in the stands, her jaw dropped.”
When the whistle signaled the end of the time out, Murdough said Leonard was quick to refocus the team.
“She was just like ‘it’s over, it’s about the team,'” said Murdough recalling the huddle.
For Leonard to step out of the spotlight so quickly wasn’t much of a surprise to those who know her best.
“How we do this year is probably more important for her than the individual awards and achievements,” Barrett said.
This unselfish behavior is something that Barrett said he can always expect to see in Leonard. Day in and day out she consistently puts every member of her team before herself.
“Whether I’ve played with them three years, two years, or one year, this team means everything to me,” she said.
According to her sidekick of three years and former teammate, Tarryn Bolognani, this leadership is crucial to the success of the Spartans.
“Alyssa is a great leader on and off the court. She influences the team on the court through her passion and love for the game. She motivates others, plays hard, and makes her teammates better players,” she said.
Murdough agreed that Leonard’s leadership is vital to the way their team functions.
“It comes verbally and through her actions. She sets the standard for how hard everyone needs to work,” she said. “She’s like the glue that holds us together.”
Not even finished with the first semester Barrett said he knows that losing Leonard after graduation at the end of the year will leave a gap in this team.
“Looking at her career at this point she’s been consistent. She’s been dependable. She’s been durable. She’s been a pleasure to coach,” he said. “There’s big shoes to fill.”
Taking a glance at a stats sheet makes it clear that Leonard is a key player in the game in every category, but it doesn’t portray how influential she is off the court.
“Alyssa has always been a role model to me because of her determination, commitment, and passion for what ever she does. I look up to her more than she knows,” said Brianna.
Off the court the sports administration major excels in the classroom and is immersed in campus activities. Basketball may be a large aspect of her life, but it is not all that defines her.
“She’s involved in many so different activities at Castleton and is able to balance them all. Overall, she’s a great teammate, a great basketball player, and an even better person,” Bolognani said.
Leonard plans to always surround herself with athletics and become a division III college athletic director. Looking to the near future, she will spend next semester as a full-time intern with the Middleburry College athletic director.
But Leonard added that even after graduation she will always remain a Spartan at heart.
After the final flash of the camera and sound of the whistle, the Spartans stepped back on the court but eventually fell to Williams in a 64-57 loss. Though disappointed in the outcome, Leonard said the mere seven point defecit to such a strong out of conference team is a positive indicator for Castleton this season.
“I think it was a great game and shows where our program has gotten to,” she said. “A thousand points is a very special moment and it’s a very special day- I think eventually I’ll get over the loss.”