EAST LANSING, Mich. – For the typical college senior, the last few months of school are haunted with one concern: get a job. Usually, this time is dedicated to gaining experience before graduation.
Kelsey Kuipers, a senior majoring in special education, was working on her future this year. Meanwhile, the Michigan State women’s basketball team was in desperate need of players. Between injuries, illness, and a player departure, the team dwindled to just seven.
They needed help, and MSU volleyball player Kuipers was their answer. She willingly gave up her jobs to help the basketball team.
“In some ways, it just says a lot about how she loves being a Spartan,” said MSU basketball Coach Suzy Merchant. “At the end of the day, Spartans do anything for Spartans, we’re all part of the same family so she felt like if would help us in some small way, it would make a difference. It says a lot about her character.”
Kuipers is one of the few athletes in Michigan State University history to compete in three varsity sports. Most would recognize Kuipers as a middle blocker for the MSU volleyball team.
After her senior season, she competed spring 2014 as a high jumper in track and field. With her volleyball eligibility over, she had time her senior year to pursue career-related activities. She coached her own youth volleyball teams and worked as an in-home care provider with Helping Hands Respite Center for children with special needs.
According to Scholarshipstats.com, the odds of a female high school volleyball player competing at the Division 1 level are about 1.2 percent, the same goes for a female basketball player. For track, odds of competing at the highest college level are 1.8 percent. Finding a woman who has gone on to play volleyball, track and basketball at that level is almost unheard of.
When she was first asked, Kuipers thought it was a joke. She wasn’t sure if it would fit into her schedule, but she was determined to give it a try.
“All my jobs were very understanding,” Kuipers said. “They were all very excited, which made it easier (to play) because everyone was so (supportive).”
MSU volleyball Coach Cathy George also encouraged Kuipers to pursue this opportunity.
“She’s always been a team player, an outstanding teammate and understands what goes into being an athlete at this level, so it was a natural fit for her,” George said.
The last time Kuipers played basketball was five years ago, at Otsego High. She was recruited for volleyball, but Kuipers left her mark at Otsego on the basketball program by setting several school records. She currently holds the record for most blocked shots in a game (15), season (111) and career (190).
It’s been about four weeks since Kuipers, now small forward, joined the team. On January 28, she got her first taste of playing time when the Spartans defeated Indiana, 72-57. They are 3-5 since Kuipers joined the roster, 11-11 overall and 3-8 in the Big Ten. The Spartans’ next game is February 5 at home against Michigan.
“I have visualized it happening so many times, and as soon as I stood up and the crowd started cheering like crazy I was like, ‘Oh goodness!’ ” Kuipers said. “Now that I’ve got the first time jitters out of the way, when I get another opportunity, I’ll actually be able to do a little more than turn it over.”
This added college basketball experience is valuable for Kuipers, as she wants to work in as a middle school resource room or math teacher. She also aspires to be a volleyball coach.
Kuipers said getting exposure to different coaching styles will help with her own teams. In a way, she’s still gaining coaching experience despite not coaching as much as planned.
“You know what, I have the rest of my life to coach,” Kuipers said. “This is a one-time opportunity right now, that is never going to be offered to me again.”
Kuipers’ role on this team is different from her previous sports. She knows that she isn’t the superstar, but she has found other ways to help the Spartans improve.
“She’s doing great, I mean she’s always in the gym, she wants to learn, she’s got a ton of energy and enthusiasm, and she just brings a lot that way,” Merchant said.
When she was approached, MSU was in the midst of a five-game conference-losing streak. Kuipers feels that because she wasn’t initially a part of the team’s struggles, she can help bring some light and motivation.
“I’ve been on losing streaks before, so having an outside perspective and just having someone that wasn’t a part of that first losing streak is like a fresh body coming in with a new mind set,” Merchant said.
At first, she described her transition into basketball a “whirlwind”, but almost a month later, she’s committed to helping her team win.
“She may or may not get on the court, but she knows that if there are any problems, and if there’s any foul trouble, or there’s more injuries, that she’ll be ready to do whatever she can to help MSU be successful in women’s basketball,” George said.