Editor’s note: The following article features Peyton Williams, whose mother, Kim (Casey) Fertig is a 1987 Great Bend High School graduate. Fertig’s parents are Ann Casey, a Great Bend resident for more than 60 years, and the late Don Casey, who passed away in 1989.
About three hours before Peyton Williams jumped for a tip ball to start the K-State women’s basketball win over Florida A&M last Friday in Bramlage Coliseum, she was pummeling volleyballs to the floor in Ahearn Field House.
Roughly two hours before that day’s volleyball practice, she was at a shoot-around for basketball.
Williams, the only current student-athlete in a Power Five conference to play volleyball and women’s basketball this season, lives a back-and-forth lifestyle between kills and points, blocks at the net and blocks in the paint, and matches in Ahearn and games in Bramlage. And she lives it quite well.
On Friday, she finished the game with 12 points and 10 rebounds. On Saturday, she notched seven kills on a .467 hitting percentage in K-State’s sweep of Oklahoma. On Sunday morning, she flew by herself from Manhattan to Dallas, Texas, to meet her basketball teammates for a 55-54 road win over North Texas that afternoon. She scored nine points, grabbed seven rebounds and swatted two shots.
“The advantage for Peyton is she is super intelligent. She picks things up very, very quickly,” K-State women’s basketball head coach Jeff Mittie said. “You don’t have to show her things two and three and four times. You pretty much can show Peyton one time.”
Since November 3, Williams has played in a combined 10 volleyball matches and basketball games, including exhibitions.
On the volleyball court, she has averaged seven kills and three blocks during that stretch. Including K-State’s two basketball exhibitions this season, she’s put up 11.3 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. Without them, she’s averaging 8.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in about 24 minutes of action a game.
“Peyton’s impressive in a lot of ways,” said K-State volleyball head coach Suzie Fritz, complimenting Williams’ ability to manage the physical, emotional and academic demands that comes with playing two sports at the Division I level. “It’s really quite special. Her maturity, her focus and attention to detail, her intelligence, her ability to learn fast, adjust, and be present where she’s at, there are a lot of things that make her capable of being able to do what she’s doing. I’d put a pretty small percentage of freshmen-sophomore athletes in that kind of category.”
Williams, a sophomore for basketball, redshirted last season for volleyball. This helped set the stage, she said, for what’s transpiring now.
“It allowed me to just focus on one (sport) last year and really set myself up to do this and be more invested in volleyball at the beginning of this season,” said Williams, the first Wildcat to play volleyball and women’s basketball in the same season since JuliAnne Chisholm (2010-11). “I think it was a good decision by the coaches.”
Additionally, Williams said she simply knows herself better this year. Specifically, she has figured out her physical limits, ways to increase them and the importance of adaptability for a person in her position.
“Learning how much I can take as an athlete and learning how much I can give to my teams too. Finding ways to still push myself but also hold back when I need to, when I need to save some energy for a game,” she said. “Learning my limits.”
There are warning signs in each sport when Williams knows she needs to pump the brakes. In volleyball, it’s when she cannot jump as high on a kill attempt. In basketball, it’s when she leaves a few shots short.
Fortunately, Williams said she’s been blessed with plenty of help at K-State. Between athletic trainers Emily Trausch (volleyball) and Becca Fitzgerald (women’s basketball), strength and conditioning coaches AJ Kloss (women’s basketball) and Danny Cavender (volleyball), and both coaching staffs, the 6-foot-4 Topeka native has plenty of people looking out for her.
“I could not do it without them. They talk to me every day. They’ve done an amazing job working with each other. Becca and Emily get me treatment when I need it, which I didn’t do that last year. I was never in the treatment room ever, so that’s been really new to me this year,” Williams said. “Danny and AJ have just been amazing, just talking to me about what I can do in the weight room. They’re tremendous staffs to work with, both teams. It’s been incredible and they’ve been a big part of this whole process.”
Equally important has been the unanimous supported Williams said she has felt from both sets of teammates, despite having to split time between them.
“I couldn’t have asked for two better teams to do it with. Both teams have been amazing in that regard,” she said. “The girls are so welcoming and they come support me. The basketball team comes to volleyball games. The volleyball team comes to basketball games. I’ve really been blessed in that area. It amazes me every single day, honestly.”
Likewise, Williams wows her teammates and coaches on a daily basis.
After the basketball team’s four-game Europe trip in August, Williams had one day off before joining volleyball practices. Her first volleyball appearance came a few weeks later in K-State’s second match of the season, when she recorded seven kills on 10 attacks. Williams now has 23 starts, 190 kills to rank third on the team, and 86.0 blocks that is tied for first with junior Macy Flowers.
“She missed the first week of preseason training and then within a week we felt like she was kind of caught back up,” Fritz said. “The learner in her is what I feel like really allows her to go back and forth.”
Once basketball practices started up in September, the back-and-forth challenge truly began. So far, Williams said she has not felt overwhelmed by it all.
“The schedule is a little crazy, don’t get me wrong, but it’s been a lot of fun running back and forth between games like this,” Williams, who has earned Big 12 Freshman of the Week honors in both sports, said. “Some days when you have to go from volleyball practice to basketball practice, that can get tiring, but it hasn’t been impossible. I’ve never thought I can’t do this anymore.”
As K-State volleyball closes out its regular season against West Virginia on Wednesday at Ahearn, Williams will transition back into a more normal student-athlete lifestyle. As a two-sport standout, however, she’s slightly torn by this.
“There’s definitely mixed feelings in that regard,” Williams said, as she will fly out to Las Vegas, Nevada, on Thursday to meet back up with the basketball team for its two games in the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout against (8/7) UCLA and Penn State. “It’s sad to see a season end, of course, but also it’s, like, ‘I get to go focus on one sport now, so that’s nice.’ Bittersweet…that’s for sure.”