Down one player in training last year, they moved Leighton to midfield. Assistant coach Sharis LaChappelle said Hagen Leighton was really good there, so she stayed.
Again, her communication skills were challenged, and while she’s not demanding, her words carry weight. They need it for a team heading into Hagen’s second season, a roster coming off a 6-8-1 campaign and the program’s second trip to the Mountain West tournament, but without its top two scorers of 2021 who accounted for 13 of the team’s 19. Goals.
“I think her teammates know she’s genuine. I think anytime you have someone who is genuine and authentic of who they are – they’re not trying to be someone they’re not – the team listens to them because they earned the role,” Hagen said. “Anytime you play on the pitch, it’s going to naturally boost you from a leadership perspective. But off the pitch, she is who she claims to be – kind, supportive, genuine. She naturally draws people to her because they know she cares. You get that feeling from her right away because of her authenticity.
The change was a jolt at first, but Leighton loves the change. She can be a bit more of a playmaker, and she was encouraged to play well there the first time she started. Each game after, she continued to learn the nuances of the spot, a task she accomplished in the spring and offseason.
The communications piece was the main carryover, and Gipson said he couldn’t be underestimated how valuable the way Leighton supports is, starting with Thursday at Utah Tech, the start of an opening of three road games in seven days. with stops in Utah and South Dakota.
“It’s crucial for the team culture. These seasons are long, and I think what we do is difficult and so every day doesn’t feel good, every day doesn’t feel good,” she said. “When you have a player that you know you can count on to elevate the team and elevate you personally, that’s crucial for the dynamics of our team and the success of our team. I think if we didn’t have someone like Kenady to do that, then the team would be in a very different situation. Who they are on the pitch is impactful, but who they are also off the pitch with their positivity is just as impactful.
Honestly, it’s hard to say who had more fun this summer, Leighton or his freshmen. Hagen calls her a mother hen, and Leighton happily accepted the label. She helped them understand hydration, nutrition, and even the importance of rest. She made sure they knew all of their teammates, as they were constantly at home or walking around with them.
When official practices began, none of them were intimidated into sharing the land with the upper classes, as they had already bonded. This is exactly what Hagen hoped would happen. And when they walk around campus, they see familiar faces who don’t share the same locker room.
“Not even just our own team. I met the volleyball girls and the basketball girls,” Sandu said. “She is so friendly with everyone. We would always have people at our house. There are also a lot of transfers in our team, and she always invited them to get to know us. These girls have never been to Fort Collins and they are in our house, and it was so normal for her.
Fun is fun, but now it’s done. Hagen strongly suggested Leighton pass the baton, and she’s willing to step down as team mom, despite considering it an honor.
“It meant a lot to me. I aspire to be that role, to be that person. It means a lot that she trusted me with them and taking care of them and showing them the ropes,” said Leighton. “He really means a lot to me.
Next year is not my responsibility. I pass the torch. It’s all in the air. It worked very well this year.
“I have the class below me. Izzy Wildermuth, McKenna Lium, Lauren Wheeler, Shayna Ross, between them, I think it will be a good situation. My roommates that I live with now, maybe I have a spare room. If I do, I’ll take one. Just one this time.
But that roommate, Gipson, might not be so quick to leave. In their home, which they now share with volleyball player Ruby Kayser, the rule is positive vibes only and the place is filled with inspirational sayings.
The house isn’t big, so Gipson isn’t sure exactly how Leighton managed the summer, noting that she would be the only person who could. The truth is, this is the type of home people want to be in, where they feel welcome.
“I just moved in with her last week, and she says hello every morning and good night and good morning,” Gipson said. “She’s just the sweetest, most interactive, positive person. I love that about her.
Because everyone needs an uplifting person like Leighton in their life.