For Aleana Leon, this is the year for redemption. This is the year for breakthrough.
Last year, in her sophomore season with the Hofstra women’s basketball team, Leon began the season without seeing much action on the court, playing more than 20 minutes just once in her first 10 appearances despite being known as the “hustle player” on the team.
Then, an injury sidelined her for over a month.
To make matters tougher for Leon, the Pride was routing its opponents, spanning a 9-3 record during her absence.
It seemed her chances of getting more involved with the team were dim.
However, head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey did just the opposite.
When Leon returned on Feb. 14 against James Madison, Coach Kilburn-Steveskey played her for 14 minutes, the third highest minutes logged all season.
In the next game, Leon was on the court for 23 minutes, then 33 minutes. A pattern began to show.
Leon became a starter for the Pride in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT).
In the first two rounds, the Puerto Rico native posted 11 points each time, including an 11 rebound performance in the first round against Harvard.
In the third round, Leon cemented her standout ability by shooting seven for 10 against Virginia with 15 points, five rebounds and three steals.
Prior to, Leon never felt like it was her time to shine, averaging 4.7 points per game and 3.1 rebounds.
But once the WNIT came around, the coaching staff knew they needed her more than ever.
“The coaches asked me if I was ready to go. And I thought ‘OK, this is my moment, let me just do it,’” Leon said.
Her striking performances in the playoffs made it an easier choice to name Leon a starting guard for the upcoming 2016-17 season, finishing off the previous season with a .400 three-point shooting percentage and 41.2 percent overall.
She credits much of her success to one word, a word she keeps in focus when out on the court with a passionate intent to win.
“Speed. That’s everything. You have to run more than the opponent. You have to be faster,” Leon said.
With the losses of Kelly Loftus, Darius Faulk and Anjie White, who combined for over 30 points per game last season, Hofstra is in need of some players to step up.
Leon does not just bring scoring and high energy to the table. Now a veteran, she has learned that she must get stronger and improve in other facets of the game.
“I’m a shooter, absolutely, but now [I need to be] getting more rebounds, [have] more leadership on and off the court,” she said. “It’s more physical than back home. But I love it, that’s why I’m here.”
The offense will mostly consist of the two-headed monster of Krystal Luciano and Ashunae Durant, but a player like Leon will help spread the floor for the Pride, generating a spark that can light the hopes of another playoff run for Hofstra this season.