By Kameron Schmid and Barbara Harvey
Before the last home game of the season for the women’s basketball team, sophomores Caresse Williams and Mackenzie Theiler were honored. Each was called to the center of the court, where they received flowers from their families and a round of applause from the crowd.
For Williams, the ceremony was certainly better than the last time she left a college.
Williams began her collegiate basketball career at Chico State in 2010, redshirting her freshman year and playing 20 games for the Wildcats during her sophomore season, averaging four points a game off the bench.
Williams struggled with her academics, to the point of being declared ineligible to play in her junior season.
“For that one semester I had like, four F’s, so that’s why I had to leave, ultimately,” Williams said.
Williams was also unsatisfied with the environment within the team, both between the players and her relationship with head coach Brian Fogel.
Fogel was hired after Williams was recruited to Chico, and she feels that was part of the problem.
“(Fogel) knew nothing about me … He just brushed me off, like ‘Oh, this is a girl that was signed early’, or whatever.”
Williams mainly resented how her fellow teammates acted.
“I didn’t like my teammates. It was my first time having a team that doesn’t respect you. It was weird. I’m used to growing up with the same girls, who had each others back, and Chico wasn’t like that. It changed everything, and I almost didn’t want to play for like a year after that, but then I started playing (at ARC), and I kind of fell in love with it again,” Williams said.
“I’m not going to lie, (Fogel) was a really good coach, I learned a lot. But the girls—it’s like, them talking behind your back about nothing. I got in trouble a couple times because they would tell people if I went out and partied.”
The environment at ARC couldn’t have been more different. Team hangouts are frequent, relationships are strong.
“The girls that were at Chico were older, and supposed to be more mature, like 22, and they were horrible with that kind of stuff, and these girls are like right out of high school, 18 or 19, and I can trust them with anything.”
Women’s basketball head coach J.R. Matsunami has seen Williams make large strides with her academics during her time here.
“(Williams) really cleaned up her grades, she’s over a 3.0, she’s getting an A.A. degree, and probably going to get some scholarship offers to Division II schools … She’ll make all-conference, and possibly make all-state,” said Matsunami.
Williams did a lot of heavy lifting throughout the entire season. She lead the team in scoring (19.9), rebounds (5.5), and steals (3.8) per game on the way to a 10-16 regular season record.
Matsunami noted that Williams’ stats were also high because she spent more time on the court than any other member of the team.
“She’s having to play 40 minutes a game. As a coach, I haven’t had many players in my career that I trust to be on the floor for 40 minutes. Its really hard mentally, as well as physically, to play 40 minutes. In over 30 years of coaching, I think I’ve had maybe five players I trust to play 40 minutes a game,” said Matsunami.
The team entered the playoffs, but lost to Laney College in the first round. Williams finished
the game with 27 points and 6 steals.
And now, Williams is looking into the future, with numerous scholarship offers from Division II colleges. This week she’ll be visiting Regis University and Cal State Los Angeles, trying to decide where her next step is.
“My mom’s a little upset, because if I go to Colorado it’s going to be really far,” said Williams.
She’s leaving ARC with an A.A. in Social Science, and hopes to major in criminology and become a human trafficking officer. And if it weren’t already enough, she’s also interested in trying out MMA fighting.
“I’m just really excited to get back on track,” said Williams.