Grand Haven Tribune: Buccaneer quartet dominates All-Star game

Buccaneer quartet dominates All-Star game

Duncan MacLean • Jun 14, 2019 at 3:44 AM

GRAND RAPIDS — Davenport University’s Rodger VanderLaan Arena may as well have been the Grand Haven Fieldhouse on Thursday, as four Buccaneers and a sizable cheering section took over the 45th annual Ta-Wa-Si All-Star game.

Alli Keyser, Esther Byington, Kelly Olthof and coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer dominated the lineup for Team Stripes, pacing the team to a 67-57 victory. The Bucs were the only team to have three representatives across four All-Star games this week, and the significance was not lost on the trio.

“The fact that there is three of us here, I think it says a lot about our team and how special our program is,” Byington said.

“These are obviously the best basketball players around,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer. “I thought they all played well. Every single one of them played well and contributed. I’m very proud of them.”

All three players had shining moments on the court, fitting their respective games into a star-studded lineup. Byington imposed her will in the paint, scoring eight straight points during a run in the second quarter, supplemented by a monster block of Muskegon’s Diynash Dowell on the defensive end.

Olthof brought the hustle, bringing her lunch pale and going to work as usual. A number of strong screens created scoring opportunities for teammates, while her automatic mid-range jumper put her number in the score sheet.

Keyser showed off her athleticism among a number of talented guards, slashing to the hoop to get her points and dishing a few nifty assists to eventual game MVP Bria Schrotenboer of Hamilton.

Meanwhile, coach Kowalczyk-Fulmer managed minutes like a pro, relishing in one last chance to toe the sidelines with a few beloved seniors.

“I canceled basketball camp and everything for this,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “They asked if I would do the game and I just had to. It was fun to get to coach these three one last time. They are all great girls and I’m excited to see them continue at the next level.”

Slotting their games in alongside a full roster of leaders was a strange challenge for the Bucs, but one they passed with flying colors.

“It was a little weird,” Keyser said. “It was a little hesitant at first, you just aren’t used to playing together. In the second half, everyone got going.”

“It probably took be a good quarter to get situated,” Byington said. “Everyone has different preferences. Our team, we like to run a lot of ball screens. The Hamilton guards, they didn’t like coming off screens. So, just talking and communicating out there was important.”

Don’t think the work to coordinate ruined the fun, All-Star games are prime for enjoyment. It was all smiles for the girls.

“It was really cool,” Byington said. “We got here, and these are girls we’ve never met before and we right away were joking around and laughing. We didn’t draw up any elaborate plays or anything, we just went out there and had fun playing basketball.”

While this was the last time for the trio in Buccaneer uniforms, Thursday’s All-Star game does not mark the end of their careers. All three players will continue to play in college with Byington joining Northern Michigan University, Olthof Lake Superior State University and Keyser Northwood.

It was a major GLIAC affair Thursday, with those three excited to suit up as opponents in conference play, Keyser got a chance to play with a future teammate and roommate in Greenville’s Adele Kemp. The two future Timberwolves had met previously, but it was the first introduction for Keyser’s fellow Bucs.

“I approve,” Olthof said of the roommate pairing.

“This was our second time meeting,” Keyser said. “I love her game. She always looks for the right pass and boxes out every time. I’m going to have a lot of fun playing with her.”

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