Kennedy Leiferman is comfortable on the basketball court.
Her hours practicing on weekends, during school breaks and traveling to Brookings to play on the North Stars summer basketball team has done more than instill confidence. It’s made her a standout 5-foot-11, do-everything wing for Kimball/White Lake the past three seasons, one KWL coach Tacey Dykstra feels has been overlooked.
But for someone who has spent countless hours on the hardwood, Leiferman had to step out of her comfort zone this season. A self-described very quiet person forced herself to speak up and be a leader on KWL’s 8-2 team during her junior year.
“I have teachers tell me all the time, ‘You’re such a great role model,’ ” Leiferman said. “That just helps me understand that there really are so many girls that look up to me, so I just have to make a good leader of myself and know that there are a bunch of people that rely and depend on how I encourage them or advance in their game, too.”
Despite excelling as an underclassman, Dykstra understood Leiferman didn’t want to step on other’s toes. Dykstra has seen her grow mentally, and being around the program another year helped her step into a leadership role.
As she becomes more outspoken, her game continues to evolve, too. She’s gone from being a slasher and driver to developing an outside shot and being an effective off-the-dribble shooter, even if her strong cuts never went away. Even when teams throw a box-and-one or triangle-and-two defense at her, Dykstra praises her ability to find gaps in the defense.
As a five-position player, the 5-foot-11 small forward’s background as a sprinter and volleyball player are evident. She moves well without the ball and uses her vertical as an added advantage to her height on the glass.
“When I was in fifth through eighth grade, I was more in the post because I was one of the taller girls,” Leiferman said. “I worked on my ball-handling a lot and being multi-positioned makes you harder to guard. I really focused on inside and outside spots.”
Outside of a rare mismatch forcing her into the post, Leiferman is a more perimeter-oriented player. When she cuts, her teammates feed her the ball, but she’s adapted by working on her outside shot over the summer. She’s made six 3-pointers this season.
“The kid puts in more time and effort than any kid I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach,” Dykstra said. “If she’s not happy with a shot or how her shot looks in practice, she’s coming back to the gym that night to work on it.”
The work ethic comes from personal motivation of wanting to improve individually to help KWL make its first state tournament since 2015. She admitted it feels like she’s in the gym a lot at times since she relishes summer camps, team camps and even worked on her shot during the latest January blizzard that hit Eastern South Dakota.
“That was hard. It was freezing in there,” Leiferman said.
Her work has paid off thus far, averaging team highs of 20.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 3.0 steals per game. She’s 20 points away from reaching 1,000 career points, too.
It’s not a complete breakout campaign, though. Not after she posted 17.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.1 steals per game during her first 42 career contests. It could be seen as another step in her progression.
“I feel, honestly, she’s been overlooked the last couple of years,” Dykstra said. “This year, she’s decided to puff up her chest a little bit and really make her presence felt on the court.”
Leiferman’s presence has never been felt more than against Chamberlain on Dec. 21. She posted 40 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and three steals, as the Cubs’ best defense was putting her at the line for 27 free-throw attempts.
Other than knowing she was at the free-throw line a lot, neither Leiferman or Dykstra realized her output until after the game. Leiferman simply fed off adrenaline and her teammates. It was one of six double-doubles.
Even as the big games pile up, Leiferman’s time in the gym doesn’t take a hit.
“She’s just not satisfied with being mediocre,” Dykstra said. “She wants to be phenomenal, which has carried her to the stature that is now.”
KWL plays Mount Vernon/Plankinton today in White Lake.