Sole senior Avery Keefe sets example for entire basketball program

Humble leader develops quiet shot and will leave legacy on court for years to come

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Grace Ostric

A FOOT ABOVE: Keefe gets her hands on the basketball as Hudsonville point guard goes up for the shot. Even at 5’8″ which is relatively short for her power forward position, Keefe is a strong defender.

Intermittent squeaks of shoes on the shiny hardwood floor, the overpowering sound of Lil’ Wayne’s “Uproar” blasting through the loudspeaker and harsh iridescent lights overwhelm the senses when walking into the Bucs’ field house in the winter. 

It’s Friday night, and the girls varsity basketball team is warming up for its game.  

While many things look different in a year with COVID-19, the spotlight is still shining in anticipation for the event to come. 

Amidst the action stands Avery Keefe, the team’s sole senior. She practices her layups, free throws, and jump shots, all part of a quiet routine that she has been a part of since her junior year. Despite her athletic ability (one look at her defined calves and muscular figure and it’s obvious she’s a threat on the court), she draws no attention to herself.

Keefe doesn’t beg for the limelight. 

“Avery leads by example,” junior teammate Alyssa Hatzel said. “She’s definitely quieter, but she’s one of the most positive. I think she’s someone that does all of the dirty work and then she doesn’t need all the credit to feel good.”

This humble personality has carried through to her playing style. Although she has a strong shot, Keefe is oftentimes an aggressive defender instead of a shooter. 

“I try to have the mindset that coach always says, ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,’” Keefe said. “That’s something that’s a really great thing to remember because I’m not super huge offensively. But, if I were to help my team out on the defensive end, just getting the balls, getting my hands on passes, getting rebounds, and doing the little things like that, I’m helping in that way. I think it helps me to stay that winning mindset.”

But Keefe’s aggression isn’t just a headspace or an approach, it is a vital necessity for a player who, at a wiry 5-foot-8, is relatively small for her power forward position. To overcome what she lacks in stature, Keefe needs to be versatile and tough on the defensive end. 

Thankfully, she is. 

“She is just really gritty around the ground and isn’t afraid to crash,” coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer (Coach K) said. “You’re going amongst the land of the giants and I wouldn’t say she’s undersized, but she’s not 6-foot. She just plays with no fear and does all those things you can’t really coach. She’s quick enough that she can defend and guard, but also has decent size and is physical enough that she can go and post.”

Last season looked different because of the global pandemic, but now there are new challenges apart from COVID-19. Jolee Houle, the team’s leading scoring last year, graduated. With that came a pressing need for new ways to secure points. 

Keefe, who has a naturally reserved personality, has had to push herself offensively. The shift hasn’t been easy, but the team is looking for it now more than ever.

“I’m hoping as the season goes on that she continues to be a scoring threat,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “She’s getting about five points per game, but it’d be nice to get her up to 10 points again because we need that and she’s certainly capable of it. I think it’s a mindset. She’s sometimes just a passer and looks to catch and pass and, when she happens to be open, she’ll take the shot. I would rather her be a shooter first and passer second. Obviously, every situation is different, but she’s very unselfish. She’s very aggressive defensively, [the team] needs to create an aggressive offense.”

This change wasn’t the only barrier Keefe was faced with. Being the only senior team captain, she has had to fulfill a leadership role in a season that has been anything but normal. 

“It’s been a little hard because preseason stuff was basically nonexistent, and especially getting into the mindset of the season, one that keeps getting delayed,” Keefe said. “It’s hard to get into it.”

Despite the challenges, Keefe has a special ability to guide others. 

“Avery works hard and always sets a good example for all the newcomers,” sophomore teammate Heidi Berkey said. “She just always has a positive attitude and the ability to encourage others. She definitely sets the tone and is someone everyone looks up to.”

For Keefe, basketball has never been just a sport. As the fourth and final girl in her family to come through the Grand Haven Girls Basketball program, it is almost like a rite of passage, and more importantly, a community. 

It has provided a place for her to grow in the sport, but also in life.

“[Basketball] definitely taught me in many aspects I wouldn’t have expected it to,” Keefe said. “In confidence and in community. It’s taught me how to get along with different people, how to interact with different types of people better, and how to love them better.”

Through basketball, Keefe learned how to take the shot. She learned how to be a confident, successful leader, even in the wildest of times. 

She attributes much of her growth to the atmosphere Coach K has established. 

“I just admire Coach so much for creating a program that is fun, but also fulfilling and successful, and a place that makes everyone better and everyone wants to be there. It’s not always like that and I think we take that for granted. She really does a lot for everyone that she approaches.”

Although Keefe doesn’t plan to continue her playing career for her college, she hopes to stay involved in intramural teams. 

Wherever she ends up, she will hold close the lessons that Grand Haven Girls Basketball taught her. But at the same time, the program will remember Keefe for the dedication and leadership she has brought.

“I really think the world of Avery,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “She’s such a generous person and is just so kind with her soft voice. She is a leader by example and a great role model for our program. It’s tough to lose a kid like that. I’m not ready to lose her yet.”