Kenai's Kelsey Dunn looks to pass the ball in front of Nikiski's Sasha Auldridge during a game last weekend.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
For Kenai Central High School senior Kelsey Dunn, it's not about the basketball. It's about working toward goals and learning about herself as a person in the process.
"She's not our most talented athlete. Her leadership is in her attitude, her work ethic, and her understanding that there are reasons to work hard beyond just being a starter or to be recognized," said Kenai swimming and girls basketball coach Lee Moore. "She works because she enjoys what she's doing. She's a great inspiration, not only for varsity players, but for the JV players that practice with us and the C-team players that watch her compete."
Indeed, Dunn describes herself as nonathletic, and said the only way she's able to compete at the varsity level is through hard work.
"I've had to work very hard to get to the point I'm at. Many people probably wouldn't play if they were in the position I'm in, but for me it's worth it," said Dunn.
"Basically, I don't start and I don't play a lot. If I get to play, great, but if not, that's OK whatever the team needs."
"You aren't going to find a harder worker. She comes close to killing herself in every practice whether it's in the pool or in the gym. She's not going to sell herself short, She has committed herself to fighting through any pain that's going to be there," said Moore. "Her dedication is one of her strongest suits, and she plays that card very well."
Dunn said she started playing basketball as a seventh-grader, and developing her skills on the court has been the most difficult part of the sport for her. The key to her success has been learning to play within herself.
"I can't go out there and do certain things, so knowing how to use the skills I have and do what I can do" has helped me compete, said Dunn.
"She has a pretty good understanding of her limitations, which makes her that much more of an asset for this team," Moore said. "She tries to stay away from her weaknesses and play up on her strengths."
Playing for Moore this season has been a change for Dunn after three seasons with Jim Beeson, now the boys coach at Kenai, but she said she's grateful for the opportunity to have played for each of them.
"They're both great coaches, it's just a different style of coaching. I'd play for either of them in a heartbeat," said Dunn. "They both understand it's about more than basketball it's about making you a better person."
Moore deflected that praise, saying Dunn's ability to understand the big picture and to develop a self-image that includes life beyond the basketball court is something she already had in her.
"She's had some mighty good parenting along the way for her to understand those deeper things we're not teaching her anything new," Moore said.
Dunn also swam for the Kardinals this season and had similar goals in the pool as she does on the court: Work hard and see what happens.
"It wasn't about placing or winning, but working hard and seeing what I can do," Dunn said, adding that her season highlight was a personal best in the 100 freestyle.
While Dunn said it can be frustrating to see her hard work in the athletic arena result in incremental improvement, she has seen a big payoff in her academic endeavors, where she has maintained a 4.0 grade point average.
"That's been a goal. Academics are different for me I can work very hard at that and be successful. I've pushed myself to achieve that," said Dunn.
Dunn said she gets plenty of encouragement from her parents, Dennis and Terrie. She even said she's come to appreciate seeing her dad at school every day, though she didn't think she would like it very much when he took over as Kenai's principal as she started her sophomore year.
"At first it was a little bit of an adjustment," Dunn said. "... It's fun being around my dad that's one thing I never thought I'd say and I've gotten used to being called the principal's daughter."
Dunn is a member of the National Honor Society and Interact Club at Kenai Central and is the class president. She is the student member of the Kenai library commission and also enjoys showing her golden retriever Kobe (but is quick to point out that the dog is not named after the basketball player).
Looking forward to next year, Dunn has applied to eight schools and, inspired by travels with her family, would like to study international business.
In the mean time, Dunn will continue to enjoy both the challenges and camaraderie of high school sports.
"Basketball is a lot of fun for me. I love the girls. They're like family to me this team is the reason I play," said Dunn. "... There's definitely a sense of family, regardless of whether you're a starter or someone who barely plays."
And as far as facing challenges every time she steps on the court, Dunn considers it a privilege and isn't about to take any of it for granted.
"It's a gift," said Dunn. "Working hard to achieve little things it's a gift I would wish upon anyone."
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