Micaela Kelly ‘living in the moment’ following NCAA Tournament, no decisions yet on future

Central Michigan senior guard Micaela Kelly reciprocates a gesture from a fan following an 87-72 loss to Iowa in the first of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament March 21 at Alamodome in San Antonio, TX.

SAN ANTONIO, Tx. – Micaela Kelly walked up to her head coach, Heather Oesterle, and the two shared a warm embrace. 

Kelly, a Detroit senior guard, was walking off the floor one final time as a Chippewa player as the final minute ticked off the clock March 21 inside the Alamodome. CMU was going to see its season come to an end with an 87-72 loss to Iowa in the NCAA Tournament. 

Despite the 15-point loss to the fifth-seeded Hawkeyes, Kelly said had little to be disappointed in. She poured in a team-high 23 points on nearly 50-percent shooting from the field and beyond the arc. To make her stat line all the more impressive, she sat most of the first half with three personal fouls in the first quarter alone. 

“It was frustrating, obviously,” Kelly said. “But, you can’t control the uncontrollables. At the end of the day, I just had to find a way to stay positive and start cheering for my teammates.”

Kelly could have hung her head and checked out of the game mentally while she was forced to sit on the bench in foul trouble. 

She didn’t. She showed why she was named captain of the Chippewas this season. 

Rooting for her teammates – in a bit of a role reversal – and hyping them up throughout the game kept the Chippewas within striking distance. When the Hawkeyes started to pull away late in the first half, Kelly was able to check back in and give her team a chance heading into the second half. 

Staying in the moment was key for Kelly during the game – even on the sideline. 

Oesterle said she has always admired the way Kelly handles tough situations – especially in the last two seasons as the team’s leader. With Kelly on the bench, the second-year head coach knew her captain was going to do whatever was needed to keep CMU in the game.

“I’ve been impressed with her every day I’ve been around her,” Oesterle said. “That’s what leaders do – they do whatever their team needs them to. She couldn’t help us on the court at that point but she was (present) and I heard her the entire time.”

There was a point, Oesterle said, that she was frustrated with how the game was progressing. After the hot start from the floor, and taking a lead in the first quarter, losing that lead and having Kelly on the bench, Oesterle said she began to feel her shoulders slouch. 

Kelly was there to pick her back up. 

“Pick your shoulders up, coach,” Kelly said to Oesterle on the sideline. 

“She does those kind of things that leaders do that we sometimes take for granted,” Oesterle said. “She’s special, she’s special for everybody she’s around, she makes everybody better.”

After the game against the Hawkeyes, Oesterle said she and Kelly had spoken about the future. With the NCAA waiving this season against eligibility, Kelly could come back for one last run. 

While Oesterle and the Chippewas would love to have Kelly back, Oesterle said she wants Kelly to chase her dream of playing professionally and do what is best for her. 

“I really hope, after watching the (Iowa) game, that some WNBA teams give (Kelly) a shot,” Oesterle said. “She’s talented. She not only can defend, but she can score and she’s fast and she’s strong. I really think she deserves a shot at the league. She really wants to play at the next level. I would give anything to have her back, but I know she wants to follow her dreams.”

Kelly said she has not made a decision one way or the other, yet. She and her teammates just completed one of the toughest seasons they had ever experienced. 

With COVID-19 testing six times a week and living in a bubble for six months just to get on the court, then having a couple of slumps during the season – all culminating with a turnaround to win the Mid-American Conference Tournament title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, Kelly said she wants to live in the moment and reflect on the season she just had. 

“(I’m) most definitely going to reflect on this season because it was a blessing,” Kelly said. “My career at Central Michigan has been something I couldn’t think to imagine. I have a problem not accepting being in the moment, so it’s time for me to be in the moment and be grateful for what I’ve done and all of the things I’ve accomplished.”