Junior guard Hailey Zeise took a huge step forward last season, jumping from a bench player averaging 10 minutes per game to a full-time starter getting 30 minutes a night. As she became a core of the Seawolves’ rotation, Zeise’s contributions to the team became defined in the minds of herself and her coach by one phrase: glue player.
“I think that last year I was the quintessential glue player, and I’ll always claim that as my role,” Zeise said. “But while I’m happy with that, I am just looking to you know, expand or evolve my role a little bit more. Just being able to do more for the team on both ends of the court and just trying to make myself a little bit of a bigger presence than I was last year.”
Zeise’s biggest improvement in the gap between her freshman and sophomore years was her development on defense, learning to handle opposing guards and becoming a lockdown defender. That effort quickly got noticed and led to her rise in usage in head coach Caroline McCombs’ system.
“I think from freshman to sophomore year as a player is a huge time for growth,” McCombs said. “She was much more comfortable in understanding the system, the expectations, you know, having played a limited role in your freshman year. A lot of times you strive and you want a bigger role going into your sophomore year and we really talked about her being that glue player for us. She does a lot of the dirty work — the tough stuff —usually guards the other team’s best guard. So there was a huge role for her last year to be filled.”
Now, the next step for Zeise is learning to become a stronger two-way player.
“It’s about being able to have more of an offensive presence as well,” McCombs said. “We are in need of some players to step up and score the ball offensively for us. So what does that look like for her, y’know as a bigger guard or rebounding guard, whether that’s posting up smaller guards, knocking down threes, taking a pull-up jump shot, you know, handling the ball, just all of those things.”
So far, being more selective with her shot has worked out well for Zeise. Through four games, Zeise is averaging 4.3 points per game and is shooting more efficiently from beyond the arc. Her efforts on the defensive end aren’t suffering either, as Zeise is averaging 4.3 rebounds per game and over a block per game as well.
Zeise is building a strong start to her season, picking right up from where she left off. Zeise tied her career-high with 11 points in last season’s finale, a semifinal loss to Hartford. While the personal performance was a highlight of her improvement, being unable to advance in the playoffs left a bitter taste in her mouth.
“Yeah, I mean, I think that every setback is a setup for a comeback,” Zeise said. “I think that, in hindsight, it’s easy to look back and be like, maybe it wasn’t our time and you can look back and look at all the things and everything leading up to it. But at the end of the day, you just gotta learn. The biggest takeaway I guess I took was just the feeling in that locker room after, I just wasn’t really satisfied with the way that I felt, and I just never really want to feel that again. So just using that to drive us forward.”
Zeise is an upperclassman now on a team that’s looking to reinvent itself after the departure of their top two scorers, guards Shania Johnson and Jerell Matthews. Zeise said that the team has progressed well and is looking for things to constantly improve on, but she also stressed the importance of taking everything in while the team is together.
“It’s now or never, we always have to play with a sense of urgency, whether you’re a freshman or a senior,” Zeise said. “You’re never going to get this time back with your teammates, you might have three more years here but you will never look in the locker room and see the same people, it’ll be a completely different look like you just never know. So I just really think playing with a sense of urgency and really valuing the time that we have together and to be able to put our best foot forward.”
Looking to keep the team aware of the opportunity they have in front of them and keep them appreciative of everyone around them: a perfect description of the glue holding the team together.