By Nate Thompson
On Jan. 24, Fruitport Calvary Christian senior Kelsey Richards became the 32nd.
Richards’ 22-point effort against Grand Rapids Wellspring officially put her name on that illustrious list, which already included her older sister Taylor Richards, a 2015 graduate of Fruitport Calvary, who scored 2.551 points during her storied career.
Amazingly, Jan. 24 was also the night that the Fruitport Calvary girls squad set a new Alliance League record for consecutive victories – 53, dating back to 2014. The previous record was held by West Michigan Lutheran, which won 52 in a row between 2000 and 2012.
“I was pretty excited,” Kelsey said. “It was our Homecoming game, too, so it was nice to get it done then. I actually made a free throw for my 2,000th point, and they announced it during a break in the game. It was still in the third quarter, though, so I didn’t really celebrate or anything. I still had to focus on the game.”
A focused and determined Richards is a scary challenge for anyone trying to slow her down. Following a stellar 37-point, 10-rebound effort against Oakridge on Feb. 4, was at 2,087 points for her career. This season she’s averaging 29.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per game for the Eagles, who have a 13-2 record.
Basketball is clearly a big focus in the Richards household. Just consider the tremendous accomplishments of all three of Brad and Joy Richards’ daughters — Taylor, Allyson (who scored more than 1,900 career points) and now Kelsey.
And their dad has coached them all.
Brad Richards, who is entering his 10th season coaching the Eagles, said he’s been extremely blessed to have the opportunity to work with all of his daughters. They were all able to play varsity as eighth-graders, due to a Michigan High School Athletic Association rule for tiny schools, so the coach has spent lots of extra time with his girls.
Now that era is about to end, because Kelsey is the youngest and about to graduate, and Coach Richards has already announced that this is his final season with the team.
With the Eagles coming off a Division 4 state quarterfinal appearance a year ago, both father and daughter are hoping to go even further and the have program’s best season ever.
“Life has its seasons,” Coach Richards said. “I’ve been so thankful to have been able to coach at the school for as long as I have. They came to me and asked me to coach, and now this is my 10th year there. Anywhere I would have gone, I would have wanted to coach my three girls. And given the opportunity to do so, I couldn’t be more blessed.”
So how did Richards develop his three girls into All-State players? First, he said, he’s been lucky, because all of his children, including the youngest in the family (son Bradley Jr.) inherited his passion for the sport. Brad excelled on the court himself, playing at Western Michigan Christian under legendary coach Jim Goorman, and later at Cornerstone University, where Taylor also played, and Allyson still plays.
While he’s always encouraged his kids to play basketball, Brad Richards said he was cautious about pushing them too hard. He strongly believes that “kids need to be kids,” especially during the summer months when they need down time from competition.
“In our family, we always say, ‘God first, family second, and basketball third,’ and we really try to stress that,” Richards said. “The way I look at it, I shouldn’t have to push any of my players. I want self-motivated players. I don’t want coach-motivated or even parent-motivated players. They have to find that desire to better themselves. That’s a real life skill.”
That mindset has drifted down to Kelsey, who Richards said routinely shoots 100 free throws and three-pointers a day during the off-season.
The 6-foot forward said she excelled mostly in the post during her first two seasons on varsity, but admired her sister Allyson’s ability to shoot from the outside. Kelsey said her shooting motion used to be “messed up,” but working with her dad, as well as local coach Jim McGannon from Basketball Basics, helped turn her into an inside-outside scoring threat.
A scary moment in the spring of her sophomore season nearly derailed Kelsey’s career. While elevating for a bucket, she was undercut by another player, sending her crashing to the ground. She suffered a fracture in her spine, and Brad Richards admitted he was uncertain if she’d be able to play again.
“Fortunately, she healed, but she still wore one of those protective Kevlar vests on the court, the one you’d see football players wear,” he said.
The extra wardrobe didn’t deter Richards, who went on to earn first-team All-State honors as a junior, a feat which she also accomplished as a sophomore.
Kelsey’s years of hard work and dedication were rewarded nicely on Jan. 28, when she signed her letter-of-intent to play at Spring Arbor University next season, an NAIA school near Jackson.
“I wanted to attend a Christian college and Spring Arbor was one that offered me a scholarship,” Richards said. “I considered Cornerstone because my family has gone there, but they did not offer. Spring Arbor reached out to me early on. It’s just two hours away and it’s a really pretty campus.”
But first things first. Richards is determined to lead the Eagles to unchartered territory – a trip to the state finals. They knocked on the door a year ago, making the first state quarterfinal appearance in school history, but lost to eventual state champion Adrian Lenawee Christian, 59-32.
“I think we were very shocked at how they came out and played with so much power and intensity,” Kelsey said. “They just took it to a different level. This year, I feel we’re more prepared to face teams like that, especially with Lizzie Cammenga and the core of our team back.”
Cammenga, who is also 6-foot, forms a twin tower attack alongside Richards, and they complement each other’s talents very well. Cammenga is currently averaging 14.5 points and 9.6 rebounds a game.
“Lizzie’s jump shot is the best part of her game,” Kelsey said. “Her pull-up jumper.”
Teamed with outstanding rebounder Kyra Hamilton (a junior forward) and a backcourt of freshman point guard McKenna Wilson and sophomore Cate Anhalt, the Eagles could be ready to make an appearance at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center, the host of the semifinals and finals.
“I love this team,” Brad Richards said. “But you can never take anything for granted.”