Before Tyonna Williams stepped on the court last Friday, her eyes turned heavy.
“I woke up [Friday] morning and my eyes started watering,” Williams said. “It was really hitting me that this is my last first kiss.”
Williams’ “last first kiss,” the season opener, was played last Friday and resulted in a 75-72 victory for the Owls against visiting La Salle. The 5-foot-6-inch guard began her senior campaign with nine points on 2-of-15 shooting.
Although her shots weren’t falling, she found other ways to contribute. With three freshmen and one transfer on the team this season, the lone senior said she has a new role on the team aside from scoring.
“I am one of our best shooters and [on Friday] my shots weren’t falling, but I didn’t get down on myself and get in my feelings and not being the leader I needed to be,” Williams said. “I remained humble, I remained a teammate to my teammates and thats what I am here for.”
“The freshmen, they don’t know what to expect and they look to me to lead them,” she added. “It’s just leadership and knowing what to say, when to say it, how to say it, to get everybody on board, knowing what needed to get done. It got done and we won the game.”
Freshman guard Tanaya Atkinson said she had to make some adjustments during the first half of the game.
“It was definitely different from high school to here now,” Atkinson said. “I was nervous in the beginning but after all of that and the first half went through, in the locker room we all talked about it, they had my back, I had their back. It was like we were a team and we had each other so it felt better and my nervousness went away.”
This mentality proved valuable in the second half, as Atkinson played a vital role in the final seconds of the game. When Atkinson was sent to the line with an opportunity to put the game away after a foul, she knocked down one of her two attempts from the free throw line.
Afterward, Williams said she saw where she needed to step in.
“After she missed the second one, she got down on herself, but that’s where a leader came in at and I told her, ‘If you hadn’t gotten that rebound and gotten the foul, you wouldn’t have gone back to the line, so we would have only been up by two instead of three,’” Williams said. “So something positive came out of it regardless of whether you put the game out of reach or not that offensive rebound counted and it was something that we needed.”
Williams is coming off a season in which she posted 9.2 points per game, good for third-best on the team. Now, after starting all 30 games a season ago, Williams is looking to lead the Owls on and off the court this season.
“Tyonna didn’t shoot the ball well,” coach Tonya Cardoza said of Williams’ performance last Friday. “She took a lot of shots, but most importantly Tyonna led them. We talk about it all the time. It might not be your night, but what are you going to do to contribute and I felt like [it] wasn’t her night, but she was the best leader on the floor.”
“She didn’t get down,” Cardoza added. “She could have easily quit and her teammates could have seen that and folded as well. She couldn’t make a shot, but she gave confidence to the next guy. Her leadership was awesome.”
Danielle Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @Dan_Nels