Former North Marion guard Henry has found a new home at Linn-Benton Community College
Linn-Benton Community College sophomore Kelsie Henry takes a pass from teammate Madeline Oakden just right of the top of the 3-point line, squares up and knocks down her shot in one swift stroke for her first triple of the night.
She goes 2-of-3 from beyond the arc in the second quarter, giving the Roadrunners a 34-16 lead over the Clark Penguins at halftime of the team's first game of 2018 at Linn-Benton's campus in Albany.
A 2016 graduate of North Marion High School, Henry was recruited to LBCC by head coach Debbie Herrold and has made a comfortable home for herself in the southern Willamette Valley over the past season and a half.
"I love LB," Henry said. "I love the people here."
After taking two seasons off, the Linn-Benton women's basketball program resurfaced in 2016 with Herrold at the helm. A member of the Northwest Athletic Conference Hall of Fame, Herrold previously coached the Roadrunners in the early '90s, opposite former North Marion girls coach Dennis Melcher, who was the Chemeketa Community College coach at the time.
Melcher went on to coach for nearly 20 years at North Marion, the last of which was Henry's senior year with the Huskies, when she garnered First Team All-League honors as one of the top shooters in the Oregon West Conference.
The connection between Herrold and Melcher helped steer Henry toward Linn-Benton, where she has been one of the team's biggest contributors this year.
"(Herrold) knew my background with Melcher, so the transition went smoothly," Henry said. "They do have similar coaching styles when you compare them intensity-wise and their game plan, so it wasn't that hard to transition."
Henry spent much of her freshman year with the Roadrunners watching from the bench. Though she played in 23 games last year, Linn-Benton's sophomore-heavy roster pushed Henry to a reserve role, playing double-digit minutes in just three contests.
But this year, it's been Henry's turn to shine.
"She has really stepped it up this year for us," Herrold said. "I'm so proud of her because she has been a huge part of this team's success this year. We wouldn't be where we're at without Kelsie playing the way she's been playing."
The Roadrunners are currently 7-10 overall and tied for fourth with a 2-3 record in the NWAC's South Division. Henry is the team's second-leading scorer with 13.6 points per game, and has been the team's most consistent shooter this season, knocking down 2.5 triples at 34.7 percent — the best mark on her team of anyone taking more than one 3-pointer per game.
"When she came in here last year as a freshman, that's what I recruited her for — how she's playing this year," Herrold said. "It took her a year, unfortunately, to get to the place where she's at, but I think she needed a year of confidence."
The transition from high school basketball to college basketball is difficult, even at the community college level. Most of the players Henry sees every night were one of the top two or three members of their high school team, and the pace of play and level of athleticism is difficult for many incoming freshmen to adjust to.
"It is way more difficult than people think," Herrold said. "The speed of the game is what gets people."
The 3-point line doesn't change from high school to college, but the defenders are much better, forcing shooters like Henry to adjust the speed of their shot release or be left in the dust.
"That's one thing I definitely worked on a lot last year," Henry said. "We had about seven or eight sophomores, so I didn't get a whole lot of playing time, but in practice, that's definitely one thing I worked on was a quicker shot release."
Henry's best stretch this season came in mid-December when she averaged nearly 19 points in a five-game span while shooting 23-of-42 (54.8 percent) from the 3-point range. She has cooled off since, partially due to a lingering hip injury, but she continues to be a key contributor for a team that is in the midst of a playoff hunt.
And while Henry's bread and butter is her 3-point stroke, it's her growing skill on the other side of the ball that has kept her in the game for long stretches this season.
"Her growth is on the defensive end," Herrold said. "That quickness needed to defend athletes at this level — her growth is there."
Henry has also turned herself into a surprisingly effective rebounder, grabbing just south of four loose balls a game. Not bad for a 5-foot-7 guard who plays primarily on the perimeter.
"She's just been rebounding the heck out of the ball the last four games," Herrold said. "I've seen a big, positive movement in her rebounding, and we need that from everybody."
While it's easy to focus on Henry's play on the court, basketball is merely the delivery vessel for her education at LBCC. After entering college unsure of where she wanted to focus her studies, Henry drew on her rural upbringing in northern Marion County to begin studying veterinary medicine and is looking to continue that education when she moves on from LBCC.
"Right now we have lots of animals, and I've always been kind of drawn to animals as a kid," Henry said. "I didn't decide on veterinary tech until mid-spring of last year. This is new, and I had to kind of redirect my academics."
Henry is looking to enter Portland Community College's veterinary tech program next year, and if basketball can help her get there, then Herrold is more than happy to help her in the process.
"She has the ability to go on to another level if she chooses," Herrold said. "I would definitely encourage all girls to go on and use basketball as a means to continue their education if it's going to help get some money to go to school."