January 12, 1999
BERKELEY, Calif. - By Patrick J. Merrill
For most college basketball players, being named a team captain is a special honor.
Senior Jennie Leander and junior Paige Bowie are California co-captains this season. While the recognition means a lot to Leander, this is not the first time Leander's teammates have selected her for the distinction.
"It has been a great honor," said Leander. "That is really how I look at it. I just want to do what I can to help the team on and off the court."
This season marks the third time in Leander's four-year career at California that she has risen to the challenge of providing leadership and guidance to a team poised to break into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993.
"I honestly feel that this is the first time since I have been here that this team is close," said Leander. "I'm really excited about that."
It is her excitement for the game that draws so much attention to her, both from teammates, coaches and fans. It is that excitement which has allowed Leander to excel in her leadership role.
"Jennie is someone who is respected and well liked by her teammates, and that is a big reason why she was selected as a captain," said Cal head coach Marianne Stanley.
"I don't think that I've ever seen Jennie have a bad day, and that takes a pretty special person. She has always been steadfast in her contribution to the team."
And what a contribution Leander has made. Fresh out of Tualatin High School in Tigard, Ore., the 6-3 center started in 26-of-27 games in her first season at Cal, scoring in double-digits in 18 of those contests. She was later named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman team for her efforts that season, ranking second on the Golden Bear roster in rebounding (7.5 rpg) and third in scoring (11.1 ppg).
That was just the beginning, and with two more stellar seasons now behind her in which she started all but one game (due to illness), Leander is looking to make this, her final season, one truly to remember.
"I just want to play as well as I can," said Leander. "I'm trying to have fun and play hard. Those are my two main goals this year, kind of a motto."
Make no mistake, Leander wants to win, too, and she is putting up the numbers to turn the 1998-99 campaign into a positive one, ranking 10th to start the season in the Bear record books for both career field goal percentage (.484) and rebounding (633). She is on pace to finish her career ranked in the Top 5 on Cal's all-time rebounding list.
"I think this is a big year for Jennie," said Stanley. "I know she wants to go out with a winning year, and we have a team around her that has more experience and has the talent to make that happen. For Jennie, that would be a great way to cap off her career here at Cal."
A mass communications major, Leander will remain in Berkeley for one more year to finish up her studies before moving on with her life, but it is going to be hard, she admits, to walk away from the game she has given so much of her life to.
"I'm sad that this is all ending," said Leander. "Now what will I do? Since third grade, basketball has been a big part of my life, and now that is almost over."
What Leander will do following her graduation remains a question mark for her, but anyone who knows Leander also knows not to discount her chances.
"I'd love to be able to teach and coach," said Leander. "I think that would be a lot of fun."
In the meantime, she has a team to motivate and another competitive Pac-10 schedule on the horizon. The conference home opener is January 14 against rival UCLA.
If history proves to repeat itself, and it almost surely does, opponents would be wise to give Leander added respect this season; she's looking to help the Bears anyway possible. That is what putting together a senior campaign is all about - wins, records, teammates and memories.
"It is impossible to spend four years at this place and not become attached," said Leander. "Cal has been so good to me. It's been such a good experience, I'm sad I have to go. But I'm forever a Bear!"