By Nate Thompson

MUSKEGON – Camaryia and Kalisa Williams helped transform Reeths-Puffer’s girls basketball program from down-and-out to up-and-coming.

They’re doing the same with the Muskegon Community College women’s squad this season.

The talented guards, who also are cousins, have helped lead the Jayhawks to a 10-3 record, including a 4-1 mark in their Michigan Community College Athletic Association’s Western Division.

Camaryia Williams brings the ball up the court for MCC in a recent game. Photo Leo Valdez

MCC is tied for the division lead with Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Mid Michigan Community College, and will visit Mid Michigan on Saturday

The Williams cousins have been key components in the Jayhawks’ winning strategy this season.

Second-year head coach Amanda Parker says what the Jayhawks lack in size, they more than make up for with their athleticism and defensive intensity.

The team has just two players over 5-foot-9 on their nine-player roster, but their red-hot start has Parker thinking they could have a shot at qualifying for the NJCAA national tournament.

“We’re a small team and we’re not going to beat teams by dominating in the post – we rely on our defense to win basketball games,” Parker said, a former All-State standout at Mona Shores who enjoyed a strong four-year playing career at Western Michigan University.

The defense-first strategy is led by Camaryia Williams, a 5-foot-5 sophomore, who leads the team in assists (4.1) and steals (3.5), and is a ferocious rebounder for someone her size, grabbing nearly eight boards per game.

She’s also more than capable of scoring when needed, currently averaging a shade under 10 points per game.

“Camaryia is super quick and athletic,” Parker said. “Last year, we relied on her to score more, but we’ve got a few more players capable of that this year, so she’s doing other things. She’s definitely capable of filling up the stat sheet. She’s been close a couple times this year to a triple-double.”

Being a multi-faceted contributor suits Williams just fine. She feels this year’s squad is more talented than a year ago, when MCC finished 20-10.

Kalisa Williams sets up a play during a recent game. Photo/Leo Valdez

“This year, I’m trying to be more of an all-around player,” she said. “My job is finding the open shooters and locking down on ‘D’ on the other end.

“I consider myself very athletic, so I think I can do all that.”

Kalisa Williams calls her older cousin the team’s “energizer bunny.”

“She’s always encouraging us and yelling ‘Let’s go ladies,’ and trying to get us fired up,” Kalisa said.

Camaryia has been a mentor to Kalisa, a 5-4 freshman guard, and Kalisa can do the same next year, when Camaryia’s younger sister, Reeths-Puffer senior Artrese Williams, joins the program.

“We have a great relationship,” Kalisa said about Camaryia. “Every day she’s pushing me to be better and on days that I’m down, she’s pushing me up. She’ll talk to me about the weaknesses in my game and what I need to do to improve. She’s always pushing me to reach my full potential.”

Parker wasn’t entirely sure what to expect this season from Kalisa, who had most of her final two seasons at Reeths-Puffer wiped out by ACL injuries to her right knee. She missed the final 14 games of her junior season and only played in one game during her senior year.

Kalisa said her second rehab was the most difficult because she was pushed by her physical therapists to try new things, like jumping off a box onto her right leg.

“I was cleared to play in October, but I don’t feel like I’m at 100 percent yet,” she said, noting her knee is still occasionally sore.

Despite her continued discomfort, Kalisa has been demonstrating that all of her hard work in rehab was worth it. She’s leading the Jayhawks in scoring at 16.7 points per game, keyed by a much-improved outside shot.

Her biggest outburst of the season came on Jan. 11, when she poured in 32 points in a victory over Lansing Community College.

“I’m not sure what she was like in high school, but I think her game has changed (since her knee injuries),” Parker said. “She’s really developed her outside shot, and she may rely on that more than she used to. But when drives to the basket, she’s not backing down against anyone. It could be a 6-footer in the paint and she’s still going right at them.”

Both Williams said they’d like to continue their collegiate playing careers at either the Division 2 or 3 level, and if possible, they like to stick together.

If the past and present are any indication, success is bound to follow them.