‘That’s the type of kid she is’: Unselfish attitude key to Caely Kesten setting multiple assist records at FSHS

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State senior Caely Kesten (13) celebrates with teammate Evy Harrell (0) after a made 3-pointer during the opening round of the Lady Firebirds Winter Classic on Thursday at FSHS on Jan. 30, 2020.

Moments before what could be the final practice of her illustrious high school basketball career, Caely Kesten swept the basketball floor with a push broom. It is a job she has fully embraced during her final season with the Free State girls basketball team.

Nobody would blame Kesten if she deferred sweeping duties to a younger Firebird. After all, Kesten has been a varsity starter since she was a freshman. Kesten has two different assist records, and she is just months away from playing basketball at the collegiate level for Northwest Missouri State University.

But that unselfishness is the very reason Kesten will leave a lasting legacy when her Free State career comes to an end this postseason.

“That’s the type of kid she is,” Free State head coach Nick Wood said. “She’s the first one here, last one to leave. She gets the broom and will sweep the floor. Nothing is about her. What makes CK so special is that it is about everyone else. It is more important for her that she’s helping her teammates be better.”

Kesten finished her final laps around the gym with the broom Monday afternoon, while her teammates started to get up shots one day before the first round of sub-state. Free State (8-12) will travel to Washburn Rural (15-5, No. 7 in Class 6A) at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The Firebirds know it will be a tough task, especially since the Junior Blues are defending Class 6A state champions. Considering how the regular season ended, though, Free State should have plenty of momentum entering the matchup.

Kesten broke her own single-game record for assists with 13 in a 60-38 win over Gardner Edgerton on Friday. She was later honored for being the program’s all-time assist leader with 219 assists and counting, besting the previous mark of 174.

That night is now Kesten’s favorite as a Firebird, but not because of her own accolades. Her final assist came on a 3-pointer by junior Shannon Clarke, a sequence that helped Clarke set the team record for made field goals (14) in a game.

“That was by far the most amazing thing ever,” Kesten said. “At the beginning, it was CK setting the assist record. Now that Shannon is a part of it and people weren’t being selfish, it was amazing.”

Since her first day with Free State, Kesten has always been focused on finding ways to put her teammates in the best position to have success.

Kesten, who started playing basketball in the first grade, moved to Lawrence from Utah just before high school. She immediately earned a spot in the varsity rotation as a freshman under former head coach Ted Juneau.

Earlier in her career, Kesten was setting up former Firebird Madison Piper, who was a two-time Sunflower League Player of the Year and currently a member of the Santa Clara University women’s basketball team.

Now, Kesten is dishing dimes to the likes of Clarke, Evy Harrell, Joy Nunoo, Mackenzie Moore, Robin Todd and Daeci Jaillite-Walker. Kesten made sure to thank all of them following last week’s win in the regular-season finale, in which she received a basketball for setting the career assist record.

“To have her take the mic and be so mature and be able to get beyond herself and thank others,” Wood said. “Not just her current teammates, but her past teammates. She’s just wise beyond her years. That moment was a really cool moment to be a part of.”

There are plenty of reasons why Kesten has etched her name in the record books as a facilitator. She has a high basketball IQ, and has essentially been a coach on the floor during Wood’s first season at the helm.

Kesten has put in the time on her own, too. Kesten does drills where she has to pass to a certain target. She understands the importance of getting the ball into the shooter’s pocket, a trait she has possessed since becoming a point guard in the seventh grade.

But the biggest key to Kesten’s resume as a passer is her unselfish mindset both on and off the basketball court for the Firebirds.

“Not only is she so good at basketball; she’s just an even better person,” Wood said. “Everyone you talk to in our league, that gets brought up every single time. To me, that makes me more proud than anything else. Because that’s the stuff that is going to carry over and (have her) be successful once basketball is over for her.”


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