VERONA, NJ - Verona senior Maddie Leonard is described by her coach as the team’s top defender who has the heart of a lion.  Proving herself to be a leader both on and off the court, Leonard is the TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove Hillbilly Athlete of the Week.  

“Maddie has stepped up for our team in more ways than I ever could have imagined. She leads by example both on and off the court, and she motivates her teammates day in and day out in practices and games,” said Head Coach Samantha Battista.  “Countless times I have asked the girls to step up and rise to the occasion, and Maddie does without hesitation. Maddie is coachable with the heart of a lion. She is our top defender and leads our team in offensive charges. All around Maddie is one of the hardest working players and just a phenomenal kid.”

Moving up a conference is never easy and the Verona girls basketball team has taken its lumps this year.  However, Leonard focuses on the positive and is proud of her team’s efforts.

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“It’s been a tough season because we moved up a conference, and we lost a lot of starters, but we work hard, we fight every game and I’m proud of the way we’ve battled,” Leonard said.  “The way we work together and the camaraderie we have really helps both defensively and offensively. I feel that Sam (Battista) could really put anyone out there, and we’d be able to make it work because of the bond we have.”

Typically a defensive player, Leonard’s favorite game so far this season was one where she was able to contribute offensively as well. 

“I’m usually a better defense player and don’t have as much confidence on offense, but Sam (Battista) had been working with me to get me shooting more,” Leonard explained.  “So in the Columbia game not only did I feel I played well defensively, but I also was shooting. I had a couple of threes and some layups, so I feel it was one of my best games.”

Though it may not be a winning season for the Hillbillies, Leonard couldn’t be happier with the way she is playing and how she is enjoying her senior season.  She is looking foward to playing in front of her friends and family on Senior Night Feb. 20 and when asked about her goals for the rest of the season, she answered swiftly.

“Just to not give up -- to keep fighting.  It has been tough with the losses this season but I think we learn something from every game, and we keep getting better.  The pieces keep coming together so no matter what our record or whether we win or lose I just want us to play our hardest,” Leonard said.  “Even though we’re not winning I think this has been my favorite season out of all the four years at VHS. I absolutely love Sam and the girls on my team.  I feel like I have a great bond with each of them.” 

TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove  is an online newspaper serving the Townships of Verona and Cedar Grove. TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, and is a locally owned news organization serving the community.

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