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Harvard’s Baskind gifted in many fields

'She was committed enough to make up the ground she lost by playing another sport. And that's the kind of person she is,'' said Ray Leone, Harvard women's soccer coach, of Framingham native Melanie Baskind. 'She was committed enough to make up the ground she lost by playing another sport. And that's the kind of person she is,'' said Ray Leone, Harvard women's soccer coach, of Framingham native Melanie Baskind. (Harvard University)
By Jason Mastrodonato
Globe Correspondent / September 1, 2011

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Melanie Baskind was on the Harvard campus for a little more than a year before her itch for lacrosse was too much to ignore.

She was already a two-time All-Ivy League selection, as well as the league’s rookie of the year, on the soccer pitch. But she also had been an All-American in lacrosse at Framingham High, and she approached Crimson women’s soccer coach Ray Leone with the idea of branching out, and playing lacrosse too as a sophomore.

He wasn’t too keen on the idea.

“You have the leader and one of the best players on your team not with the team for six months,’’ said Leone, who will kick off his fifth season as the coach at Harvard with a match tomorrow night at Long Island University. “That’s never going to be a positive for your team.

“But she was committed enough to make up the ground she lost by playing another sport. And that’s the kind of person she is.’’

Over the past three seasons - three straight winning campaigns - Leone has learned not to sell the 5-foot-3 dynamo short on anything.

The feisty forward is “so small and so young looking, you’re like, ‘This kid is the player and competitor that she is?’ ’’ he said. “Just don’t underestimate her.’’

Baskind is a two-sport captain and a two-sport first-team all-Ivy pick while pursuing a Harvard education (she is studying neurobiology).

Student-athletes at Ivy League schools have a different set of circumstances. They are not on scholarship, and thus, according to Baskind, do not have to feel that they are “owned’’ by the university.

There are restrictions on a coach’s ability to “control their lives,’’ Leone said. “Ivy League rules force you to have a balance, and it’s a good balance.’’

Although Baskind was able to make playing a pair of Division 1 sports look relatively easy, she was not fooling Leone.

“When you don’t play a sport for six months, you have to now redevelop’’ your skills, he said. “Last I checked, shooting the ball with a lacrosse stick doesn’t help to shoot one with your legs.

“It developed her in other ways, that’s for sure. Competitive spirit and thinking about the game, all that kind of stuff,’’ he said. “There are a lot of things you gain from it.’’

Baskind was certainly in shape last fall, after her first season on the lacrosse team yielded second-team All-Ivy League honors (with 32 goals in 15 games at midfield). But where her soccer skills and touch showed rust, her intelligence for the game, paired with her work ethic, shone through.

“She’s really smart,’’ Leone said. “She really uses film better than most. She’s come to me and said, ‘Hey, can I watch more film?’ And I don’t want to turn this into six hours a week of film. But if she wants six hours a week, we give it to her.’’

Baskind said she learned to watch video particularly after her sophomore season, when she was limited to just four goals on 45 shots.

“There’s a lot more scouting in college, and especially after my freshman year, you can’t really do everything the same every game,’’ she said. “You can’t just have one move, or else they’re going to scout it and take it away from you.’’

Hours upon hours in the film room might have helped. She took two less shots the next season and buried five more goals.

“She pretty much always does something exciting when she receives the ball,’’ Leone said. Baskind netted 9 goals and 4 assists in Harvard’s 9-7-1- finish a year ago.

“I give her a hard time when she gets the ball and passes it back. That’s the only negative I can get on her about.’’

Leone lauds her rare ability to learn and understand the game. Baskind is not afraid to ask questions, regardless of her standing as a senior captain.

“Especially after I left and I joined the lacrosse team - I hadn’t played for two years,’’ she said. “The first thing I did was ask a freshman that I’m two and a half years older than how to tie my stick. They were getting on me for that.’’

But those willing to learn are often willing to teach. When Baskind was a senior at Framingham, coach Stacey Freda did something she had never done before and hasn’t done since.

Freda appointed Baskind as the team’s lone captain, the first time in her long coaching career that she handed the leadership mantle to one person.

“The coaching staff always felt like we had another coach on the field,’’ Freda said. “She was reteaching drills to other players while we were in drills. We felt like there could have been five captains that year because she’s such a heavy, cerebral player.’’

At Harvard, she continues to invest a great deal of energy in both sports. But with graduation on the horizon next spring, she has started to visualize how her life will change.

As a premed student, she’s carrying a 3.75 grade-point average, a lofty number that requires a ton of studying during road trips to achieve.

“Everyone thinks I’m crazy but I’m really not,’’ she said of her array of responsibilities. “I think it’s just time management. I’m not going crazy. I’m just feeling like I’m really fortunate to be here and everything I’ve gotten to do. It’s been really rewarding and it makes it all worth it.’’

Through Framingham and Harvard, on the field and off, Baskind has developed into a person who many believe would make an excellent coach someday. And though she’s gone back and forth between fields within the medical community, coaching doesn’t appeal to her just yet.

“She has too many things on her plate,’’ Leone said. “Neurobiology - I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know that she’ll have the time’’ to coach, he said. “But if she wanted to, she’d be great. I see her having a family and coaching her kids one day, for sure. And being Dr. Baskind.

“It’s unbelievable. To have your kid turn out like this one, you’d be like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ’’

Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at jasonmastrodonato@yahoo.com.