Senior continues to improve as her final season approaches


Jessica Green

Senior Jaleesa Chapel poses with jerseys in the locker room.

In the classroom, she’s the quiet one. Little do her classmates know she has one of the best smiles — one of the brightest smiles. Little do they know she likes to laugh and sees herself as a silly person. Her teammates see her that way too.

“She’s a great person. She was one of my only friends when I first came here,” senior TaQuandra Mike said. “She still is one of my really good friends, more like my sister. She’s just a great person all around.”

Senior Jaleesa Chapel’s teammates say she’s helpful, friendly, talkative and someone to lean on.

“It doesn’t matter what you need, she will do it for you,” Mike said. “I know that from experience because when I first got here I didn’t have a car and she was one of the main ones to come pick me up and invite me or ask me to go places with her.”

They went to the mall together, they went bowling together and just hung out. But the most important part — they bonded as teammates and friends.

“For me, she’s been great — helping me out as far as when I first came in, showing me the ropes and walking me through the steps,” Mike said. “As a player she’s one of our strongest players and a heck of a defensive player. She has elements to her game that she doesn’t realize. She shows by action both on and off the court.”

As one of the best defensive players, her time has finally come.

It’s game night, the first of her last season.

She stands in front of her locker for the last time in four years. Inside, three pairs of tennis shoes, practice gear, warmup gear and a jersey — number 25. Chapel is stamped on the name plate above her locker and this is the last time she will start a new basketball season with WSU.

She enters her final season as the only player with a full, four-year college career at WSU.

“Being here for so long, I think, says a lot to me because I was able to stick through the good and the bad times so I’ve really grown as a person and a basketball player,” she said. “I’ve grown a lot and it says a lot about me — I’m loyal and I stick through it.”

Sticking through the good and bad times has allowed Chapel to come this far in her career.

With two exhibition games in the books, the team has made a successful start.

Against Cameron University Nov. 6, the team emerged victorious 67-65 with senior Diamond Lockhart making the winning shot.

In an earlier victory against Newman College Nov. 2, WSU won 58-49. Chapel started against Newman and scored eight points with one assist and three steals.

Chapel started playing basketball when she was in the seventh grade as a casual hobby.

“I used to play in the streets with people in the neighborhood,” she said. “I didn’t treat it seriously, I just played like it was street ball. I didn’t get serious until my 11th grade year because that’s when the letters started coming in.”

Chapel attended Dekaney High School in Spring, Texas, which accelerated her athletic career in basketball and track. Her success soon followed.

A four-year letterman, two-time defensive MVP, all-region player, first team all-district player, three undefeated seasons, 10 track letters and a Junior Olympic medalist. But the awards aren’t her priority.

“I don’t pay attention to them because it means something to somebody else, but I just give the credit to my teammates,” Chapel said. “Without my teammates I wouldn’t have gotten those so it doesn’t mean much — it means a lot to get them, but I don’t strive for them.”

Once basketball became a serious and successful option for her, the letters came rolling in.

Alongside an offer from Wichita State, letters from mid-major schools, such as the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and some Ivy League schools, showed Chapel the possibility of a post-high school, basketball career.

“WSU was the best option for me at the time,” she said. “I think it is and was the best choice for me because everything happens for a reason. I feel like I’m at this particular spot in my life because it’s just the right choice — it feels right and WSU has been a great place so far with the people I’ve met and the opportunities I’ve had.”

The last four years at WSU have allowed Chapel to experience polar opposite seasons: two successful seasons and then a sudden rebuilding year.

In her freshman season, Chapel played in 30 of 33 games with 2.1 points per game and 1.1 rebounds per game. Overall, the Shockers went 28-7 with a Missouri Valley Conference championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament, but fell 62-56 in the first round against Penn State.

The following year, Chapel played 33 of 34 games with 2.8 points per game, 1.8 rebounds per game and three double-figure scoring games. Again, the Shockers demonstrated dominance with a 29-5 record, an MVC championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, but fell again in the first round 78-66 against Cal State.

However, her junior season is a different story.

Things took a turn for the worse with a rebuilding season, which was expected after the Shockers lost all of the then-upperclassmen leaving only five juniors to put the pieces back together.

In her junior season, Chapel played 29 of 30 games with 1.5 steals per game, a season total of 44 considered her a top defender, and three double-figure scoring games. Overall, the Shockers finished 8-22, this time losing in the first round of the MVC tournament 56-51 against, then ranked, No.9 Bradley.

The team has seen its ups and downs, but Chapel said she has grown from the experience.

“I’ve matured a lot because of the experience and because I’ve put in time from practice and getting into the gym or practicing by myself,” she said. “All aspects of my game have grown — you have to. Being here as long as I’ve been here forces you to grow as a player. I’ve gotten stronger, faster and I’ve gained weight in a good way. My ball handling is better and my IQ has shot up and that’s because of playing the teams we play and playing college basketball, in general, just forces you to rise to the occasion or get put out.”

Put her into a challenging she didn’t foresee, Chapel rose to the occasion by leading the team through her previous season and becoming the most seasoned player with three years at WSU under her belt.

“She knows the game and knows what this culture here is about,” sophomore Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage said. “Whenever I have a question about anything — the university, the coaches or anything — she knows the answer.”

But it’s not just answering questions and helping teammates hasn’t been her only role. Mike said she has made drastic improvements over the past year.

“Last year she didn’t dribble or drive to the hole, she would basically pass the ball and just play defense,” Mike said. “But toward the end of the year it got better, I kept getting on her and she got better. But this year, this year is a whole new Chap — she’s driving, she’s shooting, she’s going on fast breaks, she’s going rim to rim. Nonstop. I’m like a proud sister, her game has evolved a lot.”

The evolution of her game is just the beginning. Chapel has set high goals and wants to add more MVC championship rings, watches and NCAA appearances to her collection.

“It’s a goal that can be accomplished with the talent we have on the team,” she said. “We have newcomers that are phenomenal on the floor and veterans with experience. I’m looking forward to everything — you can’t take this for granted.”

But for now, Chapel is enjoying the ride.

“I’m just enjoying every moment,” she said. “From the grueling moments to winning, I’m enjoying and embracing every aspect of the game.”

Chapel wants her final season to emulate Kobe Bryant’s final season — she’s treating it like a tour and is off to a good start.