Micaela Kelly lives as dark horse for Central Michigan, and it works perfectly

Central Michigan sophomore guard Micaela Kelly speaks with the media before practice at the Joyce Center on March 22 at the NCAA Tournament.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — When opposing teams think of Central Michigan women's basketball, it boils down to seniors Presley Hudson and Reyna Frost.

Those are coach Sue Guevara's star players, and the pair get national recognition. As a result of Hudson and Frost's dominance, sophomore guard Micaela Kelly gets slept on.

But it works to her success, and she's looking to take advantage of being the dark horse as the Chippewas get set to participate in the NCAA Tournament.

Kelly is a special player, which is the first thing to understand when digesting her game. Back in high school, she led Detroit Martin Luther King to four-straight Detroit Public School League championships.

Ask anyone that knows high school basketball in the state of Michigan, and they will likely explain how difficult it is to four-peat in the DPSL. After a strong high school career, Kelly joined DePaul. However, she decided it wasn't the right fit and made a quick move as a transfer to CMU.

Kelly, nicknamed Twin, sat out the entire 2016-17 season, but that didn't bother her too much, as she continued to hone in on her craft throughout the transition to Mount Pleasant. Then, she broke onto the scene in 2017-18 to help pace the Chippewas to the Sweet 16.

One year later, she's only improved her game.

No matter what hits Kelly in the face, she responds, which is exactly what makes her a piece CMU needs to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. 

"When she sees how much Presley is struggling, she takes over the load," Guevara said.

Even when poor performances from Hudson come at Kelly like a brick wall, she adjusts in a calm, cool and collective matter. Once that happens, teams are energetic toward their ability to disrupt Hudson and they easily forget how Kelly is taking over.

While she's an extremely vocal leader, Kelly doesn't trash talk with the opposition.

Instead, she allows them to label her underrated.

"It's up to them if they want to sleep on me," Kelly said. "At the end of the day, I'm going to play my game."

Central Michigan sophomore guard Micaela Kelly gets ready to shoot the basketball at practice on March 22 at the Joyce Center.

One example of Kelly carrying the load undercover was when Buffalo held Hudson, CMU's star, to 10 points on March 15 in the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals. As Buffalo, led by coach Felisha Legette-Jack, was entertained with Hudson's turnovers and missed shots, Kelly took matters into her own hands.

The 5-foot-6 guard poured in 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field and 4-for-7 from downtown despite the loss, 82-77. Without Kelly's quick response to turn on the jets, CMU would've likely been blown out.

"Twin emerges in the big games," Guevara said.

Kelly currently averages 14.3 points per game, 4.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists, all while dropping in 41.5 percent of her shots from 3-point land. She also shoots 81 percent from the free throw line, adding in 51 steals on the other end.

Using her vocal leadership, Kelly emits energy to her teammates, like Hudson and Frost. When Kelly makes a big shot, her teammates go wild. When she gets a defensive stop, the same occurs.

"She does a lot of things on the court that a lot of people don't really see, like making those defensive stops," Frost said.

Kelly is the quickest player on Central's roster. She possesses the skills to flip the court at the speed of light. Having that attribute is pivotal to her steal-and-score mentality.

Much more often than not, it's Kelly's job to defend the best offensive guard on the other team.

"Once you get stops, it turns into fast offense, so scoring becomes easy," Kelly said. "If you can lock down mentally and move your feet, it becomes fun."

And on the other end, Frost may have said it best: "When she puts her head down to score, she's going to do it."

Whenever Kelly comes to the sidelines following a long stretch of impressive minutes played, Guevara usually tells her the same thing.

"That's what I'm talking about. That's how you earn respect."