When Bobbie Kelsey signed up for the job three years ago, she knew it would not be a cakewalk. Whoever was going to assume the Wisconsin women’s basketball head coaching position would have to work to make the Badgers a national contender.
As the 2013-2014 season winds down for Kelsey and Wisconsin, the results from the previous two seasons have not improved, and the record may show that they may have even regressed.
But Kelsey knows that some day it will turn around and plans on channeling the persistence and determination from her playing days to make Wisconsin a contender.
“Being patient, that’s probably the hardest part about right now because you want it now and to be successful immediately,” she said. “Some people walk into ready-to-win situations, but that wasn’t necessarily the case here.”
Patience was key for Kelsey as a player during her freshman year at Stanford in 1992. She suffered an ACL injury that kept her sidelined while her team went on to win the national championship that year.
She came back the next year and was voted most improved by her teammates. The Cardinal would make two more runs at the Final Four her redshirt junior and senior year, but she was unable to participate her senior year because of yet another ACL injury.
Kelsey immediately got into coaching after attaining a bachelor’s degree in communications, taking her first job as an assistant at Boise State. After one season there, she joined the staff at Florida, where she made her first postseason appearance as a coach in 1999.
Florida’s regional matchup that year was coincidentally in Madison. Kelsey still remembers her first trip to her future home and the Kohl Center.
“I remember the fans were very loud and it was just a great atmosphere,” Kelsey said.
From 2000-2004, the Decatur, Ga. native coached two years apiece at Evansville and Western Carolina. In 2004, she landed in Blacksburg, Va. as a member of the Virginia Tech coaching staff, where she helped the team reach two NCAA tournaments.
Kelsey returned to her alma mater in 2007 as an assistant coach. Stanford made four consecutive Final Four appearances in her four years there, finishing as the runner-up twice.
Under her tutelage, the Cardinal became a premiere defense in the nation. The top three scoring defenses in Stanford history were during her tenure, and did not allow more than 56.0 points per game in her last three years in Palo Alto.
Defense is the primary aspect of the game Kelsey imparts on her players. She is a cerebral person (Stanford educated, with a master’s degree from Duquense University in Sports Leadership), and her players realize that.
“She focuses on the little details that go into everything,” junior Jacki Gulczynski said. “She sees things that us players on the court would not normally be able to see, and that’s obviously a very important trait to have as a coach.”
On April 11, 2011, Bobbie Kelsey was named the sixth head coach in women’s basketball history at Wisconsin.
Fifth year senior Taylor Wurtz remembers the first time she met Kelsey. The new Wisconsin coach walked into the locker room, introduced herself and had the team make a circle. It immediately created a sense of team unity and togetherness.
“Her passion for coaching really stands out,” Wurtz said. “She really loves coaching and wants to see her players succeed, on and off the court, and that’s really special.”
She added Kelsey always expects 110 percent effort from her players and demands an intense work ethic from them year-round.
In her first season at the helm, the team struggled, finishing the season 9-20. Her second season was an improvement, with the Badgers going 12-19, highlighted by winning a Big Ten tournament game for the first time since 2010 and taking down then-ranked No. 8 Penn State during the regular season.
This season has also proved lackluster. The Badgers are currently 10-15 with only three conference wins. Kelsey cites inconsistency and the lack of a locker room leader as the main causes for a mediocre record.
During her brief tenure as a head coach, she quickly learned the different challenges than those of an assistant coach.
“It’s different, that’s for sure,” Kelsey said. “It’s definitely more stressful and challenging. The final decision is the head coach’s and, right or wrong, you have to live with it.”
Kelsey says that she was drawn to Wisconsin because of the atmosphere she remembers from her trip with Florida in 1999. She was impressed with the school and the athletic department, as well as the overall support of the administration and student body.
Kelsey attempts to employ those same aspects when recruiting players that will fit into her system at Madison. Now in her third season, Kelsey’s first recruiting class are now sophomores and beginning to make an impact, most notably sophomore Nicole Bauman, who was the Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year coming out of high school.
“Our main recruiting focus is keeping the in-state kids in Wisconsin,” Kelsey said. “You don’t have to go to one of these great programs to be great. Some kids want to go where it’s already been done. I pitch the challenge and satisfaction of bringing national recognition to your home state, and it’s an integral part of what we’re doing here.”
Kelsey landed her most prominent recruit as a head coach this season, Cayla McMorris, a Minnesota native. McMorris is ranked No. 86 in the country by ESPNW and will look to make an immediate impact. Looking ahead to the 2016 class, Alona Johnson from Milwaukee has also verbally committed to UW. She is ranked No. 52 in that class by Blue Star.
Will these players finally turn the tide for Kelsey and the Badgers? Only time will tell, but if there was a coach to guide the Badgers during these trying times, Kelsey is the one to do it.