(WARRENSBURG, Mo.) – Jennies senior guard Kelsey Williams put her college basketball career to rest the way every player dreams, but it wouldn’t have happened without a career defining injury.
Before Williams suffered an ankle injury that sidelined her second season, her playing career was set to expire after the 2016-2017 season, but the injury gave her another year. She made the most of it becoming a national champion and cementing her name as one of the best to play basketball at the University of Central Missouri.
Williams started her career at Moberly Community College before transferring to MIAA foe Lincoln. When she arrived at Lincoln, she suffered a bulging disk in her back that caused her to sit out a season and use a medical redshirt. Williams would play the next season but suffered the ankle injury – forcing her to sit out again.
“I was scrimmaging with our team at Lincoln and I kept having this sensation in my foot where it would hinge, and I would almost fall,” Williams said. “I finally went to the doctor and they did an MRI and found that I had a hole in my talus bone that required surgery.”
The NCAA allows athletes who have graduated to remain eligible for another season so long as they transfer and pursue post-graduate coursework. Williams looked to continue her college playing career and possessed two years of eligibility through her medical redshirt and impending graduate transfer.
Jennies head coach Dave Slifer said UCM hadn’t shown much interest in bringing Williams in prior to her transferring from Lincoln.
“We didn’t recruit her out of high school or Moberly, but she beat us at Lincoln and we knew then that she was a special player,” Slifer said.
When it came time for Williams to decide where she’d spend the final two seasons of her college career, she was split between Central Missouri and Pittsburg State.
“After I graduated from Lincoln, my coach was a former player and graduate assistant for coach Slifer and she told me this was a great opportunity,” Williams said. “I wanted to come somewhere that I knew the coach, and I trusted her judgment.”
When Williams arrived, she knew that she would need to take on a leadership role being the oldest member on the team.
“When I was talking to coach before I decided to come here, he told me they needed a leader, and I knew they need it too,” Williams said. “I knew I just needed to come in and play my role, be a leader and help this team out.”
Nearly two years later, the Jennies were headed to Sioux Falls for the central regional of the NCAA Tournament after a disappointing loss in the first round of the conference tournament.
“It was very disappointing to lose in the conference tournament, but I think we needed it and it was an eye opener,” Williams said. “It was a hard loss for a young group of girls, but we came back with fire.”
Williams said she knew the Jennies could make the run to the national championship during their first game of the regional tournament.
“I walked out during halftime and Paige looked at me and said this is just so fun and I said what do you mean,” Williams said. “She said this is just so fun because everyone’s involved, everyone’s scoring and everyone is so together. From that point on I knew we would be one group and could beat those teams.”
After running regional host Augustana out of their own gym, Williams and the Jennies defeated both of their opponents in the Elite Eight by double digits to set up a match against top-ranked Ashland for the national championship.
Williams carried the ball up court nearly every possession forced to navigate Ashland’s suffocating press that forced an average of 20 turnovers a game.
“In reality it was super calm. If I turned it over, then I turned it over,” Williams said. “I was a little irritated when I came to the bench during a timeout after turning it over a couple times and coach told me not to worry about it and to keep moving forward.”
She would do just that as the Jennies snapped Ashland’s historic streak to become national champions. Williams’ performance earned her first team All-Tournament honors in her final game as a Jennie.
“I’m still on cloud nine, and it’s kind of unbelievable that I won’t be coming back,” Williams said. “I got a message that the girls were starting workouts soon and I felt a little left out.”
Williams will graduate from UCM with a master’s degree in sports management in May and has accepted an internship to work at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She hopes to eventually get into coaching.
“I’ll be working with their women’s basketball coaching staff, running their camps this summer. Hopefully after that I can find a job as an assistant coach and work my way up to head coach someday,” Williams said.