Woman Coach Wednesday: Laurie Kelly

"Being in the gym with incredible assistant coaches, doing something that we love, with incredible and gifted young women is simply amazing."
Posted on December 23rd, 2020 by

Laurie Kelly is in her ninth season as the Gustavus head women's basketball coach.

My Story of Purpose and Finding Gratitude in 2020

By Laurie Kelly

There is no question that 2020 is a year that will go down in history and never be forgotten. A global pandemic that has taken so much away from so many people is difficult to put into words. The long list of all we have lost this past year is easy to come up with, but there is also a list of what we have gained. For me, the simple things that I may have taken for granted, along with the slower pace of each day and time with my family have been the greatest blessings of all. 

As I sit writing this, only days away from my 50th birthday (ugh!), I reflect and find those same hidden blessings in my 25 years of coaching collegiate women’s basketball. The memories and experiences floating around in my head bring me to a plethora of emotions. For over half of my existence, basketball has been an integral part of my daily life. I am in awe as I think about what the sport of basketball has given me. I think in the fast-paced life I normally live, it is challenging, at times, to just step back and appreciate the many people and moments that have made up this journey. Gratitude is the best word to describe how I feel. To reflect on where I am now, I look back to where it all began. 

My story starts like many others, a small-town girl who joined local youth sports programs to fill my days after school and in the summer months. I was involved in many different sports, but basketball was where my passion lied. Sports helped me find my identity, and the success I had on the playing fields gave me self-confidence to believe I could achieve any goal I set out to attain.

I knew early in my high school career that I wanted to play basketball at the college level. After looking at several colleges at all NCAA division levels, I chose to play Division III basketball, in the MIAC, at St. Thomas. Many people questioned that decision, wondering why I would not want to play at the highest level possible. I knew secretly my parents were not too excited about me choosing to turn down athletic scholarships to pay for a private education, but I feel so blessed to have two incredible parents that were willing to support my decision, even though it may have been a financial challenge.

My college days went by so much faster than I expected or wanted them to, but they were also four of the most incredible years of my life. Our basketball team was very successful, and the highlight was when we won the 1991 NCAA Division III National Title! Although it was not broadcasted live on ESPN or run as a lead story nationwide, as student-athletes we felt as much exhilaration and pride as any Division I or professional athlete who has won a championship on national television in front of millions has felt. The crowd of fans rushing the floor, all of our families cheering and screaming in the stands, each player climbing the ladder one by one to cut down their piece of the net, and holding up that trophy with my life-long, dearest friends are memories that are engraved in mine and my teammate’s minds forever. Although I didn’t know it at the time, those four years would be the start to my professional career and would lead me on a path to where I am today. 

After college graduation, I entered the corporate world and worked in sales and marketing at both a large corporation and then later at a smaller, independent company. It was exciting to be earning my own salary, feeling a sense of adulthood and independence, but longed for that same exhilaration and camaraderie that sports provided me. It was my dad who gave me some of the best advice. He told me to find a job that I would love, and consider the pay a bonus. I was not sure what that job was, but I knew I was never happier than when I was with my teammates and playing basketball. I was fortunate in college to have a strong relationship with my coach, which was built on honesty and open communication. He was a big part of my incredible college experience, and he touched my life in such a positive way, that I thought maybe I could find purpose in a profession like coaching to also have that same positive affect on others. 

I received a graduate assistant coaching position and had the opportunity to learn from two veteran coaches at Mankato State, Joan Anderson and Paula Buscher, while also doing my graduate work in Sports Management. A couple years later, I was given the chance to become one of the youngest Division I head coaches in the country at Binghamton University in New York. During my time in New York, I also met my husband, Matt, who became my number one fan. Without his love and support I am not sure my story would have been the same.

After five successful years in Binghamton, a marriage, and a new infant daughter, we packed up our family and moved to Flagstaff, Ariz. I had accepted the head coaching position at Northern Arizona University. My husband gave up his professional career, moved across the country, and served as a stay-at-home parent for nine years to help raise our two incredible daughters, all while supporting my coaching career. Those years are somewhat of a blur to me. I worked long hours, traveled all over the country, and often felt like I was living in airports and hotels. We lived an untraditional family life, one with the mother working and the father being the primary care giver. I feel so fortunate to have a partner in life that was willing to do that.

With coaching, there are incredible highs and difficult lows. I began to feel torn between my responsibilities as a mother, a wife, and a head coach. My oldest daughter, Morgan, was nine years old, and half way out of the house, while Madison was just two years behind her. I felt like I was missing out on things in my daughters’ lives. I missed many of their milestones, youth sporting events, school functions and holidays. It was a challenging time in my life, feeling like I was not able to give my team and my family all that they both deserved. 

I had left Minnesota 14 years earlier, and I missed my family and friends. I wanted to go home. And again, my supportive husband stood by me leaving Division I and the much higher salary, leaving Arizona and the incredible people we had met, and agreed to move our family to St. Peter, Minnesota. My life had come full circle, when given the opportunity to continue my coaching career at Gustavus. I was able to return to Minnesota where my entire family lives, to serve as a head coach in one of the premier Division III leagues in the country, and be more present in my family’s daily lives. 

The past nine years have been some of my favorite years of coaching. Gustavus is a special place because of the people, and I feel so fortunate to be part of this community. My assistant coaches and student-athletes that I have had the privilege to work with are incredible human beings that have changed my life for the better. As a coach, I dream of the day when a Gustavus women’s basketball team wins the final game, each player climbs that ladder to cut down their piece of the net, and has that moment that changes their lives forever.   

Becoming a college basketball coach was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Being in the gym with incredible assistant coaches, doing something that we love, with incredible and gifted young women, is simply amazing. I found my purpose, and with the help of the Gustavus campus community, finding their own purpose is what we strive to help every student discover.  

With gratitude,

Laurie Kelly



  1. Joy miller says:

    Great story, great coach, great family and so blessed you touched our lives. Side note, welcome to the 50’s club. 3 weeks in it and not to bad yet!!!

  2. Tom and Barb Stallings says:

    We loved you the first day we met you and your success is no surprise to us. Merry Christmas

  3. Gretchen Koehler says:

    well done Laurie