University City

Mallard Creek girls’ basketball responds after losing top player to injury

Chantel Williams was such an integral player for the Mallard Creek High girls’ basketball team that coach Clarence “CJ” Johnson was concerned it might take three or four players to make up for her absence after a season-ending injury.

Not only did Johnson find those players on his current roster, but the ones who stepped up have made the Mavericks a more balanced team than before.

After a 58-49 home victory against A.L. Brown on Jan. 9, the Mavericks were 11-4 overall, and at 3-2 tied for third in the competitive MECKA 4A conference.

“We had to spend a little more emphasis on our full-court pressure,” said Johnson, Mallard Creek’s coach since the school opened in 2007. “We had to convince all the girls that we were going to need everybody. … It was an opportunity for others to step up and help.”

Last year, Mallard Creek posted an 18-8 overall mark and went 9-5 in the MECKA. The 2012-13 season was similar; the Mavericks were 19-10, 8-6.

Williams, a junior, was a big part of the past two seasons. She made all-conference as a freshman and sophomore, averaging 13.5 points and 10.5 assists per game over two seasons.

Johnson said he loves Williams’ versatility and thinks she is probably capable of landing at a mid-major college program when she graduates. She played mostly point guard but was capable of sliding into the other two guard spots depending on an opponent’s strengths.

It was on a late-September afternoon when this season’s direction changed. At an open-gym workout, Williams was driving for a routine layup when her left knee gave out.

Williams says her initial diagnosis was a sprain, but a magnetic resonance imaging test two weeks later revealed she had torn her anterior cruciate ligament. Rehabilitation, she was told, would take at least six months.

Dedicated to her team’s success whether she’s on the court or not, Williams has attended every Mallard Creek game and practice since being injured. She is such a student of the game that Johnson allows her the opportunity to advise other players on the court.

“It’s hard watching,” Williams said. “I just want to get out there and play. I felt if I am hurt all I can do is motivate them and tell them to stay focused.

“I played all positions, so I know how the conference is. I help them see what they can’t see.”

The Mavericks’ lineup became slightly younger when Williams was lost. Freshman guard Janay Sanders was inserted as a starter. Other starters are senior Whitney Walker, junior Autumn Drayton and sophomores Kala Brown and Janae Davis. Davis is a transfer from Cox Mill.

Brown, a point guard, has picked up most of the slack in the scoring. She can drive or pull up for a mid-range jumper. Brown scores about 14 points per game, an average up six points from last year.

“As a sophomore, there’s a lot on my plate as a point guard,” said Brown. “But I’m getting better every year. Last year I was a newbie. This year I’m a little more mature. I have to act like a junior instead of a sophomore. I have to run the show and get everyone involved.”

Drayton, one of four guards in the first five, averages 10 points. Davis, who averages 10 points and seven rebounds, is the only true post player in the starting lineup.

Playing key roles off the bench are freshman Emya Price, senior Tacara Allen and sophomore Kala Richardson, who started last year as a freshman.

Johnson said Williams’ presence could have tipped the scales in the Mavericks favor in the team’s four losses, three of which were by seven or fewer points.

Through the A.L. Brown game, Mallard Creek had a five-game winning streak, which included capturing the championship of the East Lincoln Winter Jam.

Johnson said he likes how the team has been playing recently.

“With a young team, sometimes we get a little impatient,” said Johnson. “With our top player out, sometimes we lack leadership. But I’m satisfied to this point. We just have to stay on them.”