Aiming High: How Peyton Williams made her mark on the women’s basketball program

Senior forward Peyton Williams looks to the basket as she prepares to make a play during the women’s basketball game against Oklahoma State in Bramlage Coliseum on Jan. 15. The Wildcats fell to the Cowgirls 70-63. (Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

When senior forward Peyton Williams began her basketball career at Kansas State, she was ranked as the No. 64 player in the nation by Prospects Nation out of high school and as the No. 20 forward in the nation by ESPN Hoopgurlz. Now, she is capping off a historical career in women’s basketball history. A four-year tenure that might be worthy of a jersey retirement in Bramlage Coliseum.

Williams got the opportunity to get playing time as a freshman. She played in 34 games and started in 23 of them, registering 543 minutes.

“It is certainly a rare opportunity,” Williams said. “I was kind of flip-flopping with other freshmen that we had on the team at the time and so that took some of the pressure off. And enabling me to get those minutes so young and not have to expect anything from me was really good for me for my development as a player. For me, my freshman year was for adapting to the speed of college basketball both mentally and physically.”

Those 543 minutes ended up paying big dividends for Williams.

Williams entered this 2019-2020 season under five watch lists: Katrina McClain Award, John R. Wooden Award, Women’s Citizen Naismith Trophy, Wade Trophy and Senior CLASS.

On top of that, she was an Preseason Top 25 player and Preseason All-Big 12.

Williams said that she tries to not think much about her name being up for awards and on watch lists, but she knows she has to be aware of it because it puts a target on her back to the opponent.

“I am at the top of other team’s scouting report,” Williams said. “And I have been for a while.”

Being a high-profile player also brings leadership and expectation in which Williams does to the best of her ability.

“Your team looks at you to lead and to provide,” Williams said. “I try to do that to the best of my ability throughout the year. I have definitely struggled [at times], and my teammates have been there to help me through those dead spots. It has been an expectation since my sophomore year to be a leader on the team.”

Redshirt freshman center Akoya Lee – who is on the verge of a historic career in the program herself, said Williams has done wonders to help her this season. Williams noted that Lee could break all of her records by the time she is a junior.

“I have definitely learned a lot from Peyton,” Lee said. “Definitely in forms of leadership. She’s a two-sport athlete. She is so intelligent as a person. Spending time with her rubs off on me, and her amazing leadership skills. Hopefully, I can learn some things from her to continue on [after this year]. It’s going to be different without her. I am really going to miss her.”

The 6-foot-4 forward has had a successful senior season. She is averaging 15 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. The Wildcats as a team have struggled this season, as they currently sit at 12-12 overall and 6-7 in Big 12 conference play. Williams said the rough moments this season haven’t affected her in the role she plays.

“I think about it more as like that you as an individual player is reflected on how successful the team is, and I think we have a lot of different really awesome players on our team,” Williams said. “It’s just a matter of finding how we work together, and finding how we achieve success at the same time and together to get to a win at the end of the game because we have come so close and it’s just a matter of a couple of points in a lot of the games we have played.”

One factor that makes the Topeka native such a dominant forward is her rebounding ability. She ranks fourth in K-State women’s basketball history with 919 rebounds, and she is tied for first in program history with seven games with 15 or more rebounds. To Williams, rebounding is all about being in the right place at the right time — being physical, gaining position. She added you have to get to know your teammates well enough to know when they are going to shoot it, and to be able to enable yourself to get yourself in position to rebound it.

Even if Williams isn’t scoring, her rebounding ability plays a big part in the team’s performance on a given night.

No matter the season record, no matter the score of the game, this is a team that fights till the end every time. In the Wildcats’ 18-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers on Feb. 11 – a game in which Williams said she will remember forever — Williams started the comeback with a layup. The Wildcats then built on that basket leading to a miraculous comeback in Morgantown.

“We’re not going to give up,” Williams said. “This is who we are, and we are going to keep playing.”

Williams was also thrilled to watch her teammates build off her layup in the comeback victory.

“It was cool to start [the comeback],” Williams said. “But it was even more cool to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we are all doing it together. Here it is, it’s so fun.’”

Williams knows the future of women’s basketball is bright, and said she could go through the whole roster and explain why she is excited for everybody’s future.

“There are many young starters and many hard workers on this team,” Williams said. “There are young point guards that are really showing improvement. This team is filled with a lot of promise.”

After this season, Williams plans on playing professional basketball. She is looking toward playing international basketball, and maybe WNBA if she gets the opportunity.

“International ball pairs well with my desire to see other cultures and experience life outside of the United States,” Williams said. “It goes well with my international studies and anthropology that I will have when I graduate.”