Keyser's Final Mission: Lead Bucs Into Title Mix

January 9, 2019

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Alli Keyser wore a big smile coming out of the locker room Tuesday night, as if she just had completed a career night.

In reality, the Grand Haven senior point guard was coming off one of her worst statistical nights in memory, scoring seven points (on 3-of-16 shooting) with six assists and four steals.

But the smile was a direct result of the Buccaneers’ 44-30 win over neighboring and Ottawa-Kent Conference Red rival Holland West Ottawa, which upped their record to a perfect 7-0 on the season.

“At this point in my career, I am just happy when we win,” explained the 5-7 Keyser, who started all 22 games for Haven as a freshman and has been the team’s starting point guard since. “I was off tonight, but other people stepped up and made up for it, which is great. We are going to need all of us to play well if we want to make a run.”

Keyser’s individual legacy at Grand Haven is already well-established.

Keyser, who committed to play basketball at Northwood University the summer before her junior year, broke her high school’s all-time steals record last month, besting the total achieved by 2003 graduate Julie Henderson. Keyser is also on pace to break Henderson’s all-time assists record.

As for scoring, Keyser recently moved past Abby Cole into fifth all-time in school history. If Keyser averages about 11 points per game the rest of the season, she will pass a “who’s who” of former Buccaneers greats – specifically Alex Law, Maggie Dwyer, Allison Miller and Emma Veach – and leave as the school’s all-time leading scorer as well.

“The ironic thing is that Ally is going to leave here with all of these individual records, but she is the definition of a true team player,” said 21st-year Grand Haven coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer. “She is the consummate point guard, always looking to set up her teammates and help them get better. She is an incredibly talented player, but she’s a better leader.”

Keyser has two specific goals for her senior year: win an O-K Red title and then make a long tournament run.

Grand Haven won back-to-back Class A championships in 2012 and 2013, but since then the Bucs have not been able to advance out of Districts – running into roadblocks of Muskegon Mona Shores (led by 2017 Miss Basketball Jordan Walker) and more recently Muskegon High.

This could be the year the Bucs break through, but it won’t be easy with two of the most athletic teams in the state standing in their way.

In the conference, Haven has finished second behind East Kentwood the past two years. The Falcons are loaded once again led by backcourt stars Mauriya Barnes and Alexis McCully.

In Districts, the Bucs lost by one point to Muskegon last year, and the Big Reds appear to be even better this winter with senior point guard and Michigan State commit Alyza Winston. As fate would have it, Grand Haven will play Muskegon on the opening night of the Class A District at Muskegon Reeths-Puffer.

“We have a chance with this group to do some special things,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer, who is assisted by Katie Erickson and Norm Greene. “The problem is we have to beat some great teams to achieve our goals. Right now, we really have to get a lot better in order to do that. Fortunately, the season is a marathon and not a sprint.”

All three of those teams – Grand Haven, East Kentwood and Muskegon – are likely to be ranked in the top five when the first state Associated Press girls basketball rankings are released next week.

As has been the case for the past four years, the Bucs’ offense is keyed by Keyser.

Keyser, who also happens to be the leader and playmaker for Grand Haven’s soccer team, possesses the speed, ball-handling ability and poise to get the ball up the court against pressure from the likes of East Kentwood and Muskegon.

From there, the Buccaneers can hurt teams with their size inside. Seniors Esther Byington (6-3) and Kelly Olthof (6-1), who both missed most of their junior seasons with injuries, are back and healthy and are a formidable 1-2 punch on the interior. Both will play basketball next year at the Division II college level, Byington at Northern Michigan and Olthof at Lake Superior State.

Haven’s imposing post presence opens up plenty of 3-point shooting opportunities for junior Jolee Houle and senior Anna Strom.

Houle was on fire Tuesday night, burying five 3-pointers en route to a game-high 21 points. Olthof had a strong game inside with 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting, with a team-high nine rebounds.

“That’s my main job as a point guard, is to get everyone involved and then get it to the hot hand,” explained Keyser, who has been first-team all-conference the past three years and honorable mention all-state last winter. “It really doesn’t matter who it is. We’ve had games where most of our scoring came from the inside, and other games where it’s been outside shooting. We just have to be able to do both, and then we’re tough to stop.”

It’s when Grand Haven gets stagnant or starts struggling that Keyser takes over.

She has been remarkably consistent throughout her four-year varsity career, averaging 15.2 points per game her freshman season and 16.1 points this winter, along with 5.1 steals and five assists per game.

While Keyser’s speed, court vision and shooting touch always have been there, the biggest change in her game over the past four years is from a leadership perspective.

“I have become much more vocal,” said Keyser, who plans to major in business management at Northwood. “I was quiet as a freshman and sophomore and didn’t want to overstep my bounds. Now I’m more comfortable speaking up.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTO: (Top) Grand Haven’s Alli Keyser pushes the ball upcourt, a frequent occurrence during her four seasons as a starter. (Middle) Keyser makes a strong move to the basket. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)

Breslin Bound: 2023-24 Girls Report Week 12

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

February 26, 2024

February is nearly at its end, and the girls basketball regular season will finish this week as well. And, of course, anticipation couldn't be higher for what's next as the calendar turns to March.

MI Student Aid

We have a much clearer picture of how this season's MHSAA Tournament will begin to unfold as District brackets were announced Sunday – find them all on the Brackets page. But keep in mind as well, several teams still have much to play for this week, and actually over the next four days, as almost all of our teams will finish up their regular-season schedules by the end of Thursday.

“Breslin Bound” is powered by MI Student Aid and based on results and schedules posted for each school at MHSAA.com.

Week in Review

The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:

1. Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard 54, Detroit Renaissance 39 The Irish (21-0) moved within a win of a perfect regular season by defeating the Phoenix (18-3) in the Operation Friendship league champions matchup.

2. Detroit Edison 57, Belleville 46 The Pioneers (16-2) will enter the Division 2 tournament among favorites again, further bolstered by this victory over the Division 1 Tigers (18-2).

3. Goodrich 44, Flushing 26 The Martians (21-0) also are one win from a perfect regular season, and one of those Division 2 contenders, coming off this Flint Metro League Tournament championship clincher over Flushing (14-8).

4. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 45, Jackson Lumen Christi 31 The Eaglets (20-0) are closing in on a possible perfect regular season as well after finishing a Catholic High School League Cardinal Tournament title run against the Titans (17-5).

5. Bark River-Harris 52, Munising 31 The Broncos (20-1) secured an outright championship in the Skyline Central Conference Large schools division by winning this matchup of co-leaders entering the game, with Munising (16-4) finishing runner-up.

Plainwell's Brooklyn Timpe (13) works to wall off Otsego's Audrey Lingbeek during the Bulldogs' 41-37 win earlier this month.

Watch List

With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:

DIVISION 1

Clarkston (15-6) The Wolves have hovered between Nos. 10-20 on the Division 1 MPR list over the last five weeks before bumping up to No. 8 heading into this one. They’ve played tough teams and won key games, the most notable victory lately 53-27 over Rochester Hills Stoney Creek (14-5) to avenge a 43-38 loss three weeks earlier. The other defeats have come to West Bloomfield (18-1) twice, Lake Orion (12-7) by a point, Detroit Country Day (15-5) and Chelsea (17-4) – and Clarkston has six wins over opponents with at least 14 victories, the most recent 50-33 last week over Royal Oak (14-6).

Grand Blanc (16-3) The Bobcats have won three straight District titles and sit a combined 65-17 over the last three-plus seasons, and they’ve created an opportunity to win their first Saginaw Valley League championship during this run of success. Grand Blanc will host Midland Dow on Tuesday in a winner-take-all for the SVL title, as neither has lost a conference game. The Bobcats are riding an 11-game winning streak, with their defeats to Goodrich (21-0), Lake Fenton (15-6) and Hartland (14-7). A 47-46 win over Flint Powers Catholic (17-13) on Feb. 6 factored significantly in creating this championship chance.

DIVISION 2

Vicksburg (17-2) The Bulldogs – 23-1 last season – added an exclamation point to another strong run by handing Portage Central (17-1) its only loss of the season last week, 47-33. Vicksburg did the same to Niles Brandywine (18-1) on Feb. 6, winning 46-38, which followed a 53-49 win over Paw Paw (18-2). That win over the Red Wolves avenged a 60-50 loss during the season’s first week, and has Vicksburg atop the Wolverine Conference with a share of the league title and a chance to clinch it outright Thursday against Otsego. The Bulldogs’ only other loss was 47-31 to Coldwater (17-3) on Jan. 30 – and Vicksburg bounced back for the Paw Paw and Brandywine wins over their next two games.

Williamston (16-4) The Hornets are winners of 12 straight games and took back the Capital Area Activities Conference Red championship after finishing runner-up to Haslett a year ago. Williamston swept the Vikings (14-7), winning 45-43 and then 57-38, and also owns a 44-34 victory over Ovid-Elsie (18-2) during this nearly two-month run. A 4-4 start surely provided some prep for this success, with the losses to Howell (15-6), Lansing Catholic (16-4), DeWitt (19-2) and Chelsea (17-4) – and Chelsea and Haslett both are on the other side of the bracket from Williamston at the Division 2 District at Fowlerville.

DIVISION 3

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (18-3) The Kestrels won their first Huron League championship since sharing the title in 2017-18, and clinched this one outright by defeating Monroe Jefferson in the league finale as co-leader Riverview lost to Flat Rock by a point to move into second place. SMCC doubled their win total between 2021-22 and 2022-23, from nine to 18, and the Kestrels can surpass that this season with a victory over Ida on Thursday. Their losses were to Temperance Bedford (18-2), Carleton Airport (13-7) and Grosse Ile (12-9), and SMCC avenged the Airport defeat during this current eight-game winning streak that’s also seen victories over Riverview (15-4) and Flat Rock (13-7).

Sandusky (19-1) The Wolves claimed a fourth-straight Greater Thumb Conference East championship, avenging their lone loss – 30-26 to Harbor Beach on Jan. 2 – by defeating Harbor Beach 36-23 in the rematch Jan. 25. Six more wins have come against teams with 11 or more victories this season, with a chance to add to that list this week against Cass City and Caro before jumping into the District at Vassar as the top seed. Of the Wolves’ 19 wins, 15 have come by double digits.

DIVISION 4

Clarkston Everest Collegiate (13-4) The Mountaineers finished second in the CHSL Intersectional #1 this winter, but defeated champion Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood 46-30 on Saturday to claim the league’s St. Anne Tournament title. The victory also avenged two four-point losses to the Cranes (14-4), and Everest’s other defeats were to two more Division 2 teams, Macomb Lutheran North and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (20-0). The Mountaineers will be the top seed at Auburn Hills Oakland Christian as they seek to win a third-straight District title.

Mio (17-4) Statewide eyes have turned toward 140-student Mio, which didn’t field a varsity in 2021-22, came back and finished 5-16 last winter and has jumped to 17-4 and a shared championship in the North Star League Big Dipper this season. A lot of that attention has come with freshman Mia McGregor, who according to a Bay City Times story from last week was averaging 39.3 ppg at the time. Mio defeated Bay City All Saints (16-4) that night, 61-52, and also has a win over Big Dipper co-champ Oscoda (16-4).

Can’t-Miss Contests

Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up: 

Tuesday – Midland Dow (18-2) at Grand Blanc (16-3) – As noted above, the winner will be the outright Saginaw Valley League champion, and Dow is seeking its second league title over three seasons.

Tuesday – Belleville (18-2) vs. Howell (15-6) at Northville – The winners of the KLAA East and West, respectively, face off for the overall championship.

Tuesday – Frankenmuth (18-2) at Lansing Catholic (16-4) – Frankenmuth starts a substantial final week of the regular season with this rematch of last year’s Division 2 Final, won by the Cougars, before taking on Detroit Edison on Thursday.

Tuesday – Muskegon (16-4) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (20-1) – These champions of the O-K Green and Blue, respectively, should give each other a nice test before they pursue postseason aspirations in Divisions 1 and 2, respectively.

Thursday – Colon (19-2) at Mendon (18-2) – The Magi own a share of the Southern Central Athletic Association West title thanks to a 54-31 win on Jan. 18, but Mendon can finish with the other share by avenging that defeat.

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PHOTOS (Top) Goodrich's Kayla Hairston leads her team on a break during a 61-48 win over Lake Fenton on Feb. 16. (Middle) Plainwell's Brooklyn Timpe (13) works to wall off Otsego's Audrey Lingbeek during the Bulldogs' 41-37 win Feb. 16. (Top photo by Terry Lyons; middle photo by Gary Shook.)