Editor’s Note:This story was first published by The Reflector’s sister newspaper The Chronicle in Centralia.
Mallory Williams needed a break.
Williams, a 2019 graduate of Prairie High School in Vancouver, Washington, had just guided the Falcons to a Class 3A state championship victory and wanted a breather from sports. She wanted to see what else life had to offer. So she enrolled at Boise State University, a college she’d always wanted to attend, and began her sports-free life.
It didn’t last long.
One of the most challenging aspects of her new life was finding friends. She had been a part of a team almost her entire life and suddenly had to find new and inventive ways to meet people.
“I’ve always made friends through sports, so it was different for me to have to branch out and make friends other ways,” Williams said. “I had to step out of my comfort zone and talk to people in my classes.”
Before long, basketball made its way back into her life. First at Boise State Recreation Center, which held three giant basketball courts where she would take on guys in pickup games, and later on a co-ed intramural basketball team, where her squad lost in the semifinals.
“It was definitely a change,” Williams said. “It was still competitive but it’s obviously way different from any high school game I’ve played. And also playing against boys, which I had never done.”
It was there, at the rec center, while playing three times a week that she realized she missed being on a real team. A school team. She wanted to get back on the basketball train.
It turned into more than just an idea while Williams was back at her parents home over break. She told them she wanted to pursue college basketball, which meant leaving Boise State behind and enrolling in a new school. She had just the program in mind.
Williams had played AAU basketball for one summer during high school — on Caleb Sells’ team, the head women’s basketball coach at Centralia College. So she texted him in March, asking if he had room on his roster for one more player.
“He was like, ‘Of course I do. You’re more than welcome to come play,’” Williams said. “I definitely had it easier than most people because I could just reach out to him.”
It wasn’t just on friendship alone. Williams can ball. As a four-year varsity player, Williams never lost a single home game with the Falcons. Yes, 36-0 on their home court. As a three-year starter, she was a first-team all-3A Greater St. Helens League selections, helping the Falcons earn four consecutive trips to the state tournament.
Williams pulled down 11 rebounds and dished out three assists during a bi-district quarterfinal win her senior year, then was the team’s second-leading scorer with seven points in a 37-35 state championship win over Mount Spokane in March 2019.
Sells calls the 6-foot forward a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.
“She basically gives you everything a coach would ever want in a power forward,” Sells said. “She’s tall enough and strong enough to defend inside, and rebounds like crazy. But my favorite part of her game was lifting her away from the hoop and calling plays for her to shoot the 3… I know there were a lot of teams that wanted Mallory, I’m just grateful that I get the opportunity to coach her again.”
She signed her National Letter of Intent with the Blazers in April. Since then, it’s been difficult finding a gym to train in. Luckily, her usual gym in Vancouver just reopened after being closed due to COVID-19. She’s been weight lifting and practicing her shooting, but going by herself and not having someone to push her hasn’t been easy.
“I just have to push myself, which can be challenging at times,” Williams said. “I’m just happy I can get back into a little bit of shape.”
She’ll be joining a Blazers team that ran the tables in the Northwest Athletic Conference West Region, finishing 21-7 this past spring, which included an undefeated 14-0 league record while ending the year on a 14-game win streak. Being a year out of competitive basketball has Williams a little anxious, but she’s just happy to be heading back to the court with new teammates and friends.
“I’m definitely a little bit nervous, but I also have a really good feeling about it,” Williams said. “I loved Caleb as a coach. He’s definitely my favorite coach I’ve ever had for basketball. I’m just really excited to play for him.”