Like senior guard Khalif Wyatt of the men’s basketball team, sophomore guard Tyonna Williams is a firecracker for the women’s basketball team.
“It’s great to have that person, kind of like [Wyatt],” sophomore guard Monaye Merritt said about Williams. “You see it, you just want to get excited too. It just makes you happy. Sometimes we do have to pull her in when it becomes a temper issue, because she’s so passionate about what she does.”
Williams, on many levels, is the spark plug behind the Owls. While senior center Victoria Macaulay gets all the attention and much of the stats, and deservedly so, Williams has grown into a leader on the team at an alarming rate.
Her ascent began last year when she sat behind the likes of departed senior guards BJ Williams and Shey Peddy and continued when Merritt was lost for the season to an offseason ACL injury.
“I’ve said it plenty of times. [BJ Williams and Peddy], they really taught me how to be the player that I am today,” Williams said. “Coming in last year I was cocky, because I’m coming from a top high school, I’ve always been the captain of my team.”
The onus all season has been on Williams to quarterback the team with Merritt down, no easy task for a sophomore in her first season in the starting lineup.
“What we’re asking of [Williams] is huge, and it’s a lot that comes with that,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “But it’s something that [she] wants and not everyone can do that. But with her personality she’s able to take on that.”
“To be honest, her freshman year not playing as much to now, I don’t think I would have ever thought that she would have been able to do what she’s done to this point this quickly,” Cardoza added. “Maybe her junior year, but the fact that she’s able to do it now is only going to make [Williams] that much better.”
The Fort Washington, Md., native is averaging 10.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per contest. She also leads the team with 29 steals and is second on the team with a 75.7 percent free throw percentage.
But since the start of 2013 she’s averaging 13.1 points and 5.4 assists as she’s settled into her role at the point guard position. Williams averaged 20 points, 6.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds in the Owls’ two wins last week against Richmond and Massachusetts, including a career high 23 points against the Minutemen.
“[Merritt’s] my roommate, so after every game, after every bad practice she’ll sit there with me and we’ll just talk about it,” Williams said. “We’ll watch film together and she’ll help me break down where she feels like I have to work even harder at.”
Williams’ season has been a steady rise from young starter to team leader, with several hiccups in between. Her worst was on Jan. 27 against La Salle when she played just 15 minutes and coughed up the ball nine times.
“That game, it’s kind of just still in my head,” Williams said. “I feel like I’m going to take that game throughout the rest of the season, because I never want to look like that again.”
Last season, the Owls were built with calm, cool and collected senior leaders. Things have taken a near 180-degree turn this year.
Williams is built on raw emotion. You can see her try to channel that emotion into anything she can to help the team win. On Jan. 30, when sophomore guard Rateska Brown hit her first trey of the night, it was Williams you could hear over the crowd trying to get her team psyched early.
When the opposition gets a breakaway opportunity, it’s Williams who’s chasing down layup attempts and isn’t afraid to foul to get her way and stop easy points.
The team has been trying to lessen the frequency of her negative emotional outbursts. The Owls perform as well as Williams’ emotions let them.
“I know that everything is a learning experience for her, and sometimes because she’s so emotional sometimes it gets the best of her,” Cardoza said. “She wants to be right, she wants to look good, and when it’s not that way she gets down on herself. And sometimes that frustration, her teammates see that, and that’s the part that we’re trying to get rid of.”
“We love [her emotion] but it just has to be monitored sometimes, because she’s just so impactful,” Merritt, her de facto mentor, said. “Whether it’s her being on a high, pulling us all up, or being on a low, and we all kind of suffer and have to pull her up.”
But don’t worry, like with Wyatt on the men’s team, the Owls will take the emotions because the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Jake Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jakeadams520.