I still remember when Coach Williams first came into our locker room to introduce herself. There we were, packed in our little 20-by-15-foot space, about to meet the head coach that would take us to new levels over the next four years.
I don't remember everything she said, but I do remember her saying we were going to put rings on our fingers and cut down nets, pretty "big" things to talk about, considering we were heading into the first year out of our transition period to Division I.
But you know what, she was right.
Coaching changes are never easy. Former players already have that "comfort" of playing for the previous coach, and incoming players build a relationship with a coach that they ultimately don't get to play for. All of a sudden, everything is new...for everyone. It can be a difficult transition. Coach Williams and her staff, however, made the transition virtually seamless.
From the first day of practice--in fact, the very first DRILL of practice--the tone was set. I vividly remember our first drill--Olympic Shooting. Though it's a challenge to explain without actually showing it on the court, it's a three-minute, full-court shooting/passing drill. Long story short, lay-ups are worth one point, any other shot inside the arc is worth two, and of course, three-pointers are worth three points.
The goal is to get to 100 points as a team by the end of the three-minute span. For every point short of 100, someone has to shoot a pressure free throw, with a down-and-back at stake. Coach Williams claims that she's had middle school teams get over 100 points, so of course, the Division I South Dakota Coyotes could surely best 100.
We made it to 91.
I laughed as I wrote that now--with my playing career being over--but I wasn't laughing at practice that day. We had nine pressure free throws on the line. Nine pressure free throws can't be that bad, right? They're just free throws, and our team is good at those.
We made one. We made one out of the nine free throws. Even better, it was the first free throw of the nine. So you know what that meant? We ran eight down-and-backs.
That doesn't sound like the worst punishment in the world, but consider that was our first practice of the regular season. We were not even NEAR game-shape. In conclusion, everyone was struggling to stand by the last down-and-back. Let's not forget we had an entire practice to go after that drill.
I remember thinking that maybe Coach Williams would let us off a little easy. We were clearly struggling to breathe, and we had to make it through the rest of practice. Perhaps a double-or-nothing free throw? Anything? Nope. We ran all eight of those down-and-backs, and we had to make each one in 11 seconds or under (EVERYONE had to make it in that amount of time). If even one person didn't make the time, it didn't count.
Coach Williams isn't about shortcuts. She's about doing things the right way, whatever that may be. We were always reminded that not only on the court, but in life, whenever you do things the right way, however the chips may fall, you'll be satisfied in knowing you gave (whatever it was) your all. Even our academic meetings at the beginning of each season revolved around that.
"If you could get an ‘A' in the class, but decide you can slack off a bit and still get by with a ‘B,' that's not okay. That's not what we're about. But if you work your butt off trying to get an ‘A', and the best you can do is a ‘C' after all of that work, I'll be the first one to give you a high five."
That's how Coach Williams is in every aspect of life. She gives 110 percent. She goes the extra mile.
Whether she's the basketball coach, watching sixteen game films on one team in just a few days, or whether she's the mom and wife, finding time to practice singing Disney's Frozen songs with her two daughters and husband, she's always giving it her all.
And considering the time commitments to do well at both of those aspects of life, she makes it look easy. There was never a time--practice or games--when she wasn't 110% focused on the task at hand.
I specifically remember during my red-shirt season--I had broken my foot at the beginning of my sophomore year--I was sitting at practice running the clock. Coach Williams' husband, Lloyd, was an assistant on the USD men's basketball team at the time, and they were on the road, so their two daughters, Kennadi and Bentli, were hanging out at our practice. The girls have always been very well-behaved and never are a bother when they hang out at the DakotaDome.
That day, Bentli, about four years old at the time, was extremely sick with a kidney infection and in a lot of pain. After some tears, Coach Williams had Bentli on her hip to comfort her while she walked around the court, explaining an offensive scheme. Supermom? Yes. Supercoach? Yep. I remember sitting there, probably forgetting to restart the shot clock because I was in such awe, thinking, "Wow, she really does do it all."
Fast forward to now--we just wrapped up our season by winning the WNIT in front of 7,415 fans in a sold-out DakotaDome. Only three teams each season get to end their season on a win, and not many seniors can say they got to go out with a win and a national tournament title. We did that. And we did it because Coach Williams and her staff prepared us, each and every day, to be champions.
But anyone who would have watched us practice heading into the WNIT probably wouldn't have predicted that outcome. After a tough loss to our rival, South Dakota State, in the Summit League Tournament, that ultimately resulted in us not going to the NCAA tournament, we took three days off of practice to refocus and get ready for the WNIT.
The first drill of our first practice back was five-man weave/3 on 2/2 on 1. It requires a lot of communication and executing the "little things." Let's just say that we weren't executing the drill like a team that wanted to make noise in the WNIT. Instead of letting us take that shortcut, Coach Williams stopped the drill.
"This looks like a team that wants to get knocked out in the first round!"
That phrase packed a punch, considering in last season's WNIT, we didn't play well and were knocked out in the second round at Northern Colorado. From that point of practice on, we picked it up. Coach Williams, by simply not letting us take shortcuts in the very first drill of post-season, sparked a fire that carried us through to holding up the WNIT championship trophy. It's funny how things work out.
Now, Coach W has earned herself another big time opportunity as the new head coach of the University of Nebraska women's basketball team. It was no surprise that something like this came about after all of the success she's had, but even with Nebraska being her alma mater, the decision to leave USD wasn't an easy one.
Coach is extremely loyal to the people in her life. It was a sad day in Vermillion when everyone found out the news, simply because she's had such a positive impact on this close-knit community.
At the same time, I think I speak for the majority in saying that I could not be happier for this amazing woman. In living a life of doing things the right way--the Williams way--Coach Dub has earned herself the perfect opportunity...one of those opportunities you just can't pass up.
There is not a more deserving person for the job, and I have no doubt in my mind that she and the Huskers will have a LOT of success in her time there.