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Dec. 5, 2021

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EWU’s Melissa Williams coming ‘home’ with Eagles

By , Columbian Sports Copy Editor and Writer
Published:
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Melissa Williams, right, Eastern Washington University basketball.
Melissa Williams, right, Eastern Washington University basketball. Photo Gallery

o A double major, Williams is a three-time Big Sky All-Academic selection. She expects to complete her biology degree in the spring and the journalism degree a year later. “Originally, I just couldn’t choose,” Williams said. “I started as a biology major, and then I just really didn’t want to lose my passion for writing.” She said it “will be weird” to watch games from the bleachers next year, “but it will be cool.”

o She is one of three EWU student-athletes in the position of “social media ambassador” for the athletic department. The school promotes her Twitter handle @melissawillie42 for fans to follow. “They trained us a little bit, and they just trust us that what we put on social media are the things people will see,” Williams said. “We know that, and we know what to put on there and what not to, and we really try to tweet and get things out there to the public and our fans that will spark their interest in Eastern athletics.”

o She took time away from preparing for her senior season to go on a Christian missions trip to Brazil last summer. “I’m just truly passionate about helping other people and spreading the blessings that I’ve had in my life and all the love I’ve received from other people,” Williams said. “It was amazing. I’m so glad I did it.”

Melissa Williams is hoping to make the most of her final game in the area when her Eastern Washington University basketball team plays Saturday at Portland State.

“I’m a little nervous because there are a lot of people coming. I guess my parents are rounding up a big ol’ group,” the Camas High School graduate said with a laugh. “But I’m so excited. I’ve just been so loved and supported throughout my career by so many people from back home. I’ve been really surprised how many people have followed me and my team. I’m just excited to play one more time in front of them. Hopefully, I’ll play well and we win.”

o A double major, Williams is a three-time Big Sky All-Academic selection. She expects to complete her biology degree in the spring and the journalism degree a year later. "Originally, I just couldn't choose," Williams said. "I started as a biology major, and then I just really didn't want to lose my passion for writing." She said it "will be weird" to watch games from the bleachers next year, "but it will be cool."

o She is one of three EWU student-athletes in the position of "social media ambassador" for the athletic department. The school promotes her Twitter handle @melissawillie42 for fans to follow. "They trained us a little bit, and they just trust us that what we put on social media are the things people will see," Williams said. "We know that, and we know what to put on there and what not to, and we really try to tweet and get things out there to the public and our fans that will spark their interest in Eastern athletics."

o She took time away from preparing for her senior season to go on a Christian missions trip to Brazil last summer. "I'm just truly passionate about helping other people and spreading the blessings that I've had in my life and all the love I've received from other people," Williams said. "It was amazing. I'm so glad I did it."

A 6-foot-1 senior center, Williams is averaging 9.8 points and 9.2 rebounds a game for the Eagles (13-8, 6-4 Big Sky Conference).

Williams played guard for her first three seasons at Camas, and was named The Columbian’s All-Region Player of the Year as a junior. Her senior year as a Papermaker brought a move to the post with a coaching change, and was cut short by injury when she suffered a dislocated kneecap.

She had already signed to play college basketball at EWU, and after rehabilitating the knee, she was one of only two true freshmen in the Big Sky to start every game for her team as the Eagles had an opening to fill for a departed senior player.

“I didn’t really think I’d be contributing so early,” Williams said. “I had really no idea that I’d be getting so much playing time my freshman year, but it was a great experience and I’m so glad that I was able to contribute and do what I could for the team.”

Williams averaged 4.6 points and 5.3 rebounds a game as a freshman. She started 13 of 29 games as a sophomore, averaging 4.7 points and 6.1 rebounds while missing three games, the only non-appearances of her EWU career. As a junior, she started 19 games and averaged 6.0 points and 6.2 rebounds.

Collegiate changes

Near her goal of averaging a double-double as a senior, Williams has scored at least 10 points nine times and grabbed at least 10 rebounds 11 times, posting six double-doubles.

She has set single-game collegiate bests this season of 16 rebounds, six assists, four steals and three blocked shots (five times). Her high scoring game of the season is 18 points, shy of her career high of 23 during her junior season.

“I think I’ve come a long way with my game overall,” Williams said. “I wasn’t really a shooter when I got here, but I think my game has improved just because my confidence has improved and just my level of comfort being on the court and being a leader with my team. It just really helps me relax on the court and be able to play the way I know I can play.”

Williams never thought she would play center when she was on the perimeter in high school, she said, although she described herself even as a guard as more prone to penetrating than shooting from long range. She is less than tall for her position, but skills outside of the paint come into play during games.

“It was definitely new coming in here and always having my back facing the basket,” she said. “That was something I had to get used to. It’s a little bit different style of play, but I like being around the rim because I can get more rebounds and kind of clean up and get some (offensive) boards, which gives you some easy points.”

While her range does not extend to the 3-point line — Williams is 1 for 4 from there this season — she does get away from the basket at times.

“I definitely sneak out to the short corners and the elbows and get some shots, especially if the posts aren’t going to follow me out there,” she said. “Hopefully I get an open look every once in a while. I like that. It’s kind of easier than battling in the post.”

Eagles’ flight

Eastern’s season “has been a bit of a bumpy ride,” Williams said. The Eagles started 2-0, lost their next two then alternated wins and losses to reach 4-4. A seven-game winning streak, including winning the Gator Holiday Classic with a win over tournament host Florida, was followed by four losses. Last weekend, the Eagles swept Montana and Montana State, part of EWU’s first-ever 4-0 weekend sweep of the Montana schools by the men and women.

Big Sky women’s results in general have been volatile this season. Only two teams are currently on a winning or losing streak of more than two games. Montana had won seven consecutive games before losing Thursday in Cheney.

The Eagles are fourth in the Big Sky standings with the season winding down toward the eight-team conference tournament. EWU is 64-49 so far in Williams’ career, 42-24 in Big Sky play, reaching the conference tournament semifinals and advancing to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament when Williams was a sophomore.

EWU visits Sacramento State on Thursday before playing Portland State at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Stott Center.

“I can’t believe it’s almost over,” Williams said of her collegiate basketball career. “It’s been an amazing ride. I still go through mixed emotions about it coming to an end, but I couldn’t be more happy that I chose this place and this team. It’s awesome.”

Columbian Sports Copy Editor and Writer
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