ALBRIGHT: Maddi Leggett commands the Big Reds

Jolts of energy race through Parkersburg High point guard Madi Leggett’s body shortly after the ball touches her hands in a varsity game. She stands charged with the leadership of the No. 1 high school team in the Mountain State from her command atop the key. One of the most devastating scoring units in Class AAA averages 71.1 points per game.

Deadly shooters surround her on court.

Her eyes fly over the hardwood scanning the other nine game participants while her brain simultaneously fires electrical signals carrying questions from synapse to synapse. “What is the defense trying to do here?” “What play should we be in?” “Who has the hot shooting hand and how do I get them the ball?” “Is that the beginning of a double-team on Shay-Lee (Kirby)?” “Should I try to generate my own shot here?” Those are just a few of the queries.

She might rarely shoot the ball, but another threat opens up the defense even more than last season.

Her decisions affect entire possessions yet she remains stoic.

Initial feedback from scans of the hardwood process in seconds though there exists no shot clock in high school basketball. Pressure situations offer little paralysis effect anymore. Years spent playing against older kids during the Red Storm AAU days paired with a three-sport athlete talent portfolio prepared Leggett for these moments.

With her decision quickly made, Leggett’s pass hits teammate Bre Wilson in stride off a screen as her quick release earns PHS three more points. She made the right read again.

Celebrations don’t last long, if at all, as the junior quarterbacks the defense too. Head coach Scott Cozzens’ D needs set assuming the Big Reds don’t get a steal from their high-intensity press.

If Wilson, Shay-Lee Kirby, Madi Mace, Aleea Crites or any teammate swipes the rock she has to hustle back to the offensive end of the floor. There may not be an easy transition bucket and the offense needs set again.

On the rare chances PHS’ pressure does not rattle opposing teams, Leggett stands ready with the call on the defensive end of the floor. Her Big Reds allow opponents 45.5 points per contest.

Oh yes, this is entirely Leggett’s team, not Austin Peay commit Kirby’s or Mace’s or Wilson’s or Crites’ but her squad. A fact nowhere more on display than last year’s regional co-final against Cabell Midland. A matchup she missed due to a personal tragedy. PHS barely escaped with a win.

“The situation at point guard got so bad in that game assistant coach Phil Wilson yelled down the bench and asked if there was anybody who wouldn’t throw it to the opponent,” said Cozzens. “Of course, someone who said yes, got in and threw the ball to the opponent.”

Along with condolences and a big hug the next time he saw his player, Cozzens offered a revelation. “I told her as long as I am the head coach you can’t miss anymore games,” he said with a chuckle.

“She is penciled into the lineup all the time. It was very apparent to everyone we needed her.”

Whether taking him at his word or luck, Leggett has played in all 31 games since the cold day back in February, 2018. The Big Reds’ record in those 31 games? 30-1 with two trips to the state tournament, a regional championship and a state title.

“I feel I know what works best for what situation in a game,” said Leggett on her fast confidence. “I know what to call just from playing basketball so long. I think of myself as a leader a lot from knowing what works best on certain nights and what doesn’t.”

Two of those wins came directly by her doing. Two halftime deficits, Fairmont Senior and the first matchup against Parkersburg South, saw her play-calling abilities and willingness to step up in the big moment brightly shine.

Leggett engineered a 30-point swing in the second half against the Polar Bears, then she kept the Patriots at bay with important free throws in the closing minute of the Big Reds’ first win inside Rod Oldham Athletic Center in a long time.

“Her teammates have the ultimate confidence in her that is the biggest thing,” said her coach. “If your teammates believe in you that is half the battle there.”

“She loves being around these kids and knows how to play. Her biggest improvement this season has been her ability to cover up for us when we are out of position on defense.”

Cozzens high praise comes in stark contrast to his thoughts on her at the beginning of the season last year. Phil Wilson, who coached her in the Red Dragons program, had to convince him Leggett could play. “I was all over her,” said Cozzens who saw a lot of turnovers with her on the floor. However, once he started watching the tape, he noticed everyone other than Leggett committed the turnovers.

“She just doesn’t get a lot of attention because she doesn’t score 20 points a night,” said Cozzens. “She has just done a great job for us the last two seasons.”

Does she care about recognition? “I don’t care,” said Leggett with a smile on her face. “This is an extremely special team and we can do a lot of stuff with this team that hasn’t been done yet.”

One of those starts at 7:15 p.m. tonight as the Big Reds chase the second-leg of the school’s first three-peat as state champion. You can bet Leggett will be leading the way too.

“She is my favorite,” said Cozzens. “She has a calmness about her with an assassin’s mentality. She can laugh and joke but is definitely someone you want on your side. If a team has a weakness, she will find it, exploit it, and get us into the best setup possible to take advantage.”

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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