Peyton Williams, one of the few two-sport collegiate athletes that have played for Kansas State Univeristy, is proof that practice and persistence pays off.
The granddaughter of Ann Casey, Great Bend, and Raymond and Jane Fertig, Ellinwood, headed to Colorado Springs Thursday for the start of basketball training camp at the U.S. Olympic training center. As part of the 12-member USA Basketball team, she will represent her country at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, from Aug. 6-10.
Casey and Kim Fertig, Williams’s mother, visited the Great Bend Tribune on Tuesday, July 16, before heading to a gathering where they planned to spend some quality family time before Williams is thrust into a whirlwind of travel, practice, and competition.
Dealing with challenging schedules is practically a way of life for Fertig. Since she was a toddler, Williams has been athletic and competitive. Her stepfather Todd Fertig encouraged her from the start, and by the time she entered junior high in Branson, Mo., Williams was playing softball and basketball. Around that time, Todd introduced her to volleyball, and while at first learning to serve was difficult, she was undaunted, and her persistence paid off.
Soon after, the family moved back to Topeka, and Williams and her younger brother, Carter Williams, attended a small private school. Williams joined a club team, the Kansas Hoopsters, where she made gains developing her skills. She also gave up softball in favor of club play in volleyball.
By the time she reached her junior year of high school, the time commitment and cost of playing two club sports was immense, Kim Fertig said. Plus, school was becoming more challenging. In addition to the regular season, Williams was playing during the summer too.
“While all her friends began choosing what sport they would focus on, Peyton couldn’t decide,” Kim Fertig said. “She loved them both, and kept playing.”
Luckily, even though the school she was attending didn’t garner much attention, recruiters had their eye out at the club tournaments, and she began receiving a lot of attention from both basketball and volleyball programs. Yale, Northwestern, Missouri State University, and Kansas State University were all vying for her attention.
Claflin’s bright star Jackie Stiles was the assistant coach at the Missouri State at the time, and she worked hard to recruit Williams.
“Jackie did a really great job recruiting me, and Missouri State was in my top three choices,” Williams said in a phone interview. “She taught me a lot, and she really believed in me as a player.”
But Stiles and Missouri weren’t the only game in town. Topping the list was K-State.
Coach Jeff Mittie, KSU Basketball coach, really wanted her for the basketball program, and she was also being recruited for the volleyball program. It was unclear if the coaches were aware they were recruiting the same player. Around that time, Northwestern University in Illinois expressed an interest in having her play both sports.
Williams and Kim Fertig wondered if K-State would be interested in a similar arrangement? It turns out, they were.
When all is said and done, Williams will attend five years at K-State. She’s on a basketball scholarship.
Her first year, she played basketball, and red-shirted in volleyball and in her fifth year, she will only play volleyball. In between, she will play both sports for three years. K-State’s Jill Shields works closely with Williams to negotiate her schedule during the three week crossover, Kim Fertig said.
With support from her coaches, Shields and her mother helped to land Williams at the Pan American team tryouts earlier this year. Her record drew interest from team organizers, but there was some doubt she’d be available for tryouts because the K-State volleyball team was scheduled to play in Brazil around that time.
“I thought I’d miss the trials all together,” Williams said. “But when we found out that I would still be in the country, my coach told me ‘oh, well, USA Basketball wants you to come and try out for the team. So it just happened.”
Through it all, Williams has managed to maintain a 4.0 grade point average, Kim Fertig said. Majoring in both anthropology and international studies, and minoring in political science, Williams looks forward to someday traveling the world.
“Potentially, I have some interest in playing overseas,” she said. “Regardless, I want to go across the ocean and just see what there is to see, and if I could be paid for it, that would be even better.”
Williams continues to follow and maintain contact with Stiles. When her team made it to the Sweet 16 earlier this year, she texted her congratulations.
“One of my former teammates from my travelling team plays for Missouri State, so it was fun for me to cheer for her and also cheer for Jackie throughout that,” she said.
With Stiles move to Oklahoma University, Williams has mixed feelings about seeing her across the court.
“It’s going to be kind of fun to see her and also kind of a bummer to see her across the court, but mostly it’ll be good to see her again. She’s a legendary player.”
Williams won’t be on her own in Peru. Her mom, stepdad, brother Carter and grandparents Raymond and Jane Fertig will be there to cheer her on. Her father, Eric Williams, will be cheering her on from the shores of Hawaii. If she hadn’t made the team, she would have met up and vacationed with him there.
Clearly, Williams is working out how to make her dreams come true.