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Senior Stories: Kuipers Reflects on Four Years

Nov. 19, 2013

by Nick Barnowski, MSU Athletic Communications

Kelsey Kuipers' first Michigan State road trip all the more special. She was a freshman on a Spartan volleyball team that was en route to the Aloha State - Hawaii.

"I was star struck," Kuipers said, and it's hard to imagine her being anything but considering she had spent her days growing up in Otsego, Mich., which boasts a population of just 3,956 people.

Her confidence has only grown since then, and now the senior has gone from being only the second player in Otsego history to play D-1 volleyball to standing out on a talented Spartan squad ranked 16th in the country.

"I went from Otsego to here," Kuipers said. "There was a big difference between high school and college."

Although she did not get as much recruiting attention as girls from other locations, Kuipers said playing on the Battle Creek based Dead Frog Volleyball Club helped make her more visible to college recruiters.

"I didn't get as much attention in high school as the girls from Chicago did," she said. "I was on a good club team, and I think that's where I got my attention from."

When the attention did come, she focused on two schools: Michigan State and Western Michigan. Both of her parents, Kathy and Dave, went to Western, and her dad played on the Bronco men's basketball team. As a result, she grew up wanting to go to school in Kalamazoo. After visiting MSU, she thought differently.

"They had everything," she said. "The volleyball program was excellent. Something just stood out to me."

Kuipers is appreciative of the support she receives from her parents.

"There have been very few matches in my entire career that they haven't been to," she said. "They've always been that way during club and high school, too. There weren't games that they missed, so that was always nice."

Since Kuipers joined the team in 2010, MSU's record has improved every season. This year, the Spartans started the season strong with wins against Nebraska and Ohio State along with an upset of then No. 1 Penn State on the road. The 6-1 senior has been a valuable contributor to Michigan State's success.

In 2013 she's recorded 87 kills along with a .295 hitting percentage, which is higher than her career mark of .263%. She's had three solo blocks as well as 46 block assists. Five of those kills and four of those total blocks came at Penn State on Sept. 27, a match Kuipers called was "probably the highlight" of her career.

"In the beginning of the season, we were the underdogs, we were the ones taking away the wins from the other teams," Kuipers said. "We had our ups, and every team is out to get us now. We've become the hunted, instead of the underdog."

The 21-year-old enjoys her relationship with the coaching staff, and said that "it's different" with each one.

"We have such an amazing staff. Cathy is so dynamic - she can get on you, but is also incredibly caring and is so geared toward developing us not only as players, but as people," said Kuipers. "And our assistants are so much a part of everything help us in so many ways. Mike [Gawlik] is the `funny one', who lightens the mood when we need it most - but is still so competitive and wants to jump in and play with us. Russ [Carney] is the `caring one', who is so great for us on the court, but also is in charge of our academic stuff. Krista [Rice] played my position, so is a huge help to me in that way - but she also played for the same club I did, and is someone who can really relate to what we go through day-to-day as a student and an athlete."

Kuipers is close with the rest of the seniors on the team - she shares an apartment with Kristen Kelsay and Lauren Wicinski, and has a strong bond with the girl she shares the middle blocker position with, Alexis Mathews.

While Kelsay and junior libero Kori Moster are team co-captains, Kuipers said she feels she is a leader in a different sense.

"There's littler things that I do that might not be seen as much," she said. "It's the little things I do off the court and on the sideline that helps."

Off the court, Kuipers is studying to become a teacher, a profession she is passionate about and has worked toward since before enrolling at MSU. Her mother is a teacher, which has helped fuel her desire to help kids.

"I love it when I'm teaching a student and they get that `aha!' moment," she said. "And they're like, `oh, I get it!' I just love that joy of helping them."

She came in to Michigan State with the initial plan of majoring in kinesiology (and becoming a phys ed teacher) and minoring in math. After discovering that the phys ed program had been eliminated by the university, Kuipers explored other avenues during her freshman and sophomore year. It was then where she found a passion in special education.

"I observed in a lot of classrooms," Kuipers said. "I had one class that just sparked my interest in special needs, and I talked to a lot of people. I observed in a special needs classroom and it was just a great experience.

"I love working with those kids. I still have no doubt that's what I want to do."

Kuipers takes advantage of the help offered at the Clara Bell Smith Center, and credits academic coordinator Mandy Chandler for part of her success.

"We do have great facilities over at Smith," she said. "She'll [Chandler] get us tutors if we need help or are falling behind. As an athlete, you've got to manage your time really well."

In her time at Michigan State, Kuipers said the most important thing she's learned is to have no regrets on the court or in life.

"Go out everyday giving 100 percent, so when you look back, even if you lost, you went out can say you did your best. Leave nothing out on the court."



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