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‘Even-keel’ Keelyn Laird thrives as quiet leader for Ludington’s girls basketball team

The 6-foot-3 Ferris State University signee, who also stars in volleyball, looking to be more assertive in senior season.

It’s in Keelyn Laird’s nature to take care of everybody else. That applies to the basketball court as a 6-foot-3 college-bound forward with deft passing skills and in life as a laid-back personality who looks to help others.

The Ludington High School senior, who recently signed to play basketball for Ferris State University, is considering a career in nursing.

“My mom and dad (Noah and Sarah Laird) both worked in the healthcare field, so like growing up that’s just what I’ve known, I guess,” Keelyn Laird said. “And I also enjoy helping people. Being in the hospital and helping people, it just seems fitting for me.”

Last year, setting up her teammates was a role that Laird thrived in as the Orioles earned a share of the Lakes 8 Activities Conference title, notched district and regional championships, and advanced to the Division 2 state semifinals at the Breslin Center. Ludington fell to powerhouse and eventual state champion Detroit Edison, 63-30, in the semis to finish with a 20-6 record.

Despite the defeat at Breslin, it was a season that the Orioles and their fans will never forget. Laird was more than just a set-up player. She averaged 10.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. She was content to follow the lead of then-seniors RyAnn Rohrer and Abi Bandstra, who are now playing basketball collegiately for Calvin and Cornerstone universities.

This season, Ludington is looking for Laird to take charge and to be more of a scoring presence, including in the paint. It’s a role to which the typically pass-first player is adjusting.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

Newcomers to the West Michigan Conference, the Orioles are 7-3 overall and sit alone atop the Lakes Division standings with a 5-0 record.

Playing alongside 5-foot-11 senior post Olivia Lynn, Laird is averaging 9.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 1.5 assists and 0.6 blocks per contest.

Laird earned All-Lakes 8 second-team honors as a sophomore in 2020-21, then last season she was all-conference first team and BCAM’s Best honorable mention for Division 2.

“She’s very skilled. She can just do a lot of things on the court. She can play with her back to the basket, she can face up, she’s a great shooter. And then also, she’s probably one of the best passers that I’ve ever coached – probably the best passer that I’ve ever coached,” Ludington coach Warren Stowe said.

“We see a lot of zone and she kind of carves that up with her passing. We get a lot of buckets in transition because she can throw a Kevin Love over-the-head outlet pass – she can literally throw that pass 90 feet.”

Stowe said that Laird’s shooting range extends comfortably to the 3-point arc.

He noted that the first few games this season, she was a bit tentative in finding her way into a primary scoring role. Whether it’s conscious or subconscious, she’s thinking about and understanding that she is “the girl,” Stowe said.

“She’s the most talented girl we have on our team. She’s the girl that right now, especially with some of our struggles scoring, we look to her to have the offense go through,” Stowe said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean she has to score (every time), but we need her to touch the ball because when she touches the ball, good things happen.”

According to Stowe, Laird is “just very even-keel” – what you see is what you get. He said it’s comforting as a coach to have a player that’s so consistent and dependable.

Laird also has hit some big shots in her career. A couple that stand out to Stowe were a late 3-pointer she hit to put Ludington ahead in an eventual overtime win against rival Cadillac in the district finals two years ago and a bucket down the stretch to seal the deal against Frankenmuth in the state quarterfinals last season. She also scored key points for the Orioles in a regional finals win against Negaunee last year, her coach pointed out.

To her team, Laird is the complete package.

Photos courtesy of Claire Allen

“She’s very hard-working and determined. She’s super funny, sweet … she’s a very lovable person,” said junior teammate Emma McKinley, who has become a close friend of Laird’s.

“I think she plays a key role to our team, especially this year. We’re always looking to give her the ball because she does have those post moves at the rim. She’s trying a lot of new things this year — new finishing moves, passing out to us on the perimeter for us to shoot. It’s working out for her and the team.”

In its run through the state tournament last season, Ludington played with a care-free attitude. One of the Orioles’ season goals was to hold opponents under 40 points and they achieved that many times. Their defense carried them to the Breslin.

Laird said last year was about “continuing our legacy and creating one.” This season, Ludington’s goals are more of the same. The Orioles are still playing very strong defense.

“I think our goals are still relatively the same as last year, but we also have to change things because we lost Abi and RyAnn, so we’re a different team this year,” Laird said. “One of our big goals this year is to just play basketball. We’re really good at running an offense, but we also need to, like, just play basketball. It’s been one of our main things.

“Our overall goals are the same: Trying to keep teams under 40, trying to advance, make it as far as we can, keep creating a legacy.”

Laird is leaving her own legacy as a Ludington athlete. As a sophomore, she was a first-team all-conference goalkeeper for the Orioles’ soccer team. She gave up soccer but continued with volleyball as a four-year varsity performer.

This season, the outside hitter helped Ludington run away with outright West Michigan Conference Lakes Division title. The Orioles lost a five-set heartbreaker in the Division 2 district semifinals to rival and eventual state finalist Cadillac.

In the fall, Laird totaled 285 kills, 278 digs, 59 aces, 36 assists and 29 blocks en route to earning all-conference and all-area honorable mention accolades while helping Ludington achieve academic team all-state.

“It was one of my first lasts, so that was hard for me – taking my volleyball shoes off for the last time, having my mom coach me for the last time, it was hard,” said Laird, whose mother assisted Ludington head volleyball coach Liz Holden.

Laird, a 3.7 student who has dual-enrolled in high school- and college-level courses, signed with Ferris State in November. She picked Ferris because it felt “very homey” and added it’s a stress-reliever having the process wrapped up.

Ludington senior volleyball player Keelyn Laird poses for a portrait prior to the 2022 season. (Courtesy of Jen Segraves)

Outside of Ludington, Laird has played a high level of travel basketball with MBA’s GUAA 2023 squad. In other words, the Michigan Basketball Academy’s Girls Under Armor Association team for her class. There, she grew even more accustomed as a set-up player rather than a score-first option.

With Ludington this season, Laird is trying to fill Rohrer’s shoes as a low-post scorer, while also being asked to in-bound the basketball and help the Orioles break the press in addition to putting the ball on the floor. Being a leader on the court also is required, both through her actions and vocally.

“Scoring is not important to me. It’s probably the last thing that I think of, but this year it needs to be,” Laird said.


Don’t miss the super cool, slow-motion video from CatchMark SportsNet’s Girls Basketball Media Day from Nov. 23, 2022:

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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