Williams set to cap memorable career

Cheryl Miller of USC, Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings of Tennessee, Sophia Young of Baylor and Alli Williams of St. Francis.

Which one of those names doesn’t belong in the list with the others?

The answer: They all belong.

The first four are considered to be some of the greatest women’s college players of all time, and the latter is an Altoona native and Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School graduate.

Still don’t understand how she belongs in the same conversation?

According to research done by St. Francis assistant director of athletics communications Dann Whitmore, Williams, Miller, Holdsclaw, Catchings, Young and six others are the only players in the history of women’s college basketball to score 2,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds and come up with 300 steals in a career.

Williams, a shy girl with a laid-back personality, is nearing the end of her career. She is getting prepared for today’s Northeast Conference quarterfinal showdown with Sacred Heart to try to extend her SFU playing days another game.

The 6-foot-0 senior has put together a career that has her ranked as one of the best players of all-time in Red Flash history.

“She’s one of the top three all-time here,” St. Francis athletics facilities manager Pat Pfeilstucker said. “I’ve been [here] for 29 years, so I’ve seen all the great ones, and she definitely is one of them.”

How she got to this point in her career wasn’t exactly anticipated or expected. However, it did involve plenty of hard work and determination by one of the hardest working players to don the Flash uniform.

“She’s in the gym more than anybody I know,” Pfeilstucker said. “She just works on everything. If she’s not in the gym here [at SFU], she’s probably finds a gym somewhere else.”

High school days

Williams came off the bench her freshman year for a team, including her older sister Dani, that captured the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class A state championship.

After failing short in the state playoffs her sophomore year, Williams and the Lady Marauders bounced back to win consecutive state titles her junior and seniors years.

Williams was named the Class A state player of the year as well as the Altoona Mirror player of the year after her last two years.

She finished her high school playing days with three state titles, four District 6 championships, and as the school’s all-time leader in points (1,756}, rebounds (907) and steals (421).

“She was a player that was just a level above everybody else in high school,” Bishop Guilfoyle head coach Mark Moschella said. “It makes me feel very, very proud to be able to have coached such a great person.”

She also was a standout soccer player and a two-time District 6 champion in the shot put.

The recruiting process

Williams began catching the eye of then Penn State assistant coach Susan Robinson-Fruchtl as a seventh grader at Altoona Central Catholic School.

“I saw from an early age that she had something remarkable,” Alli’s sister, Dani Williams, said.

“She just needed to put the time into it.”

Fruchtl continued to keep tabs on her with hopes that she would be good enough to attend Penn State one day.

However, Fruchtl finally got her own head coaching job at St. Francis, and immediately knew that Williams was a recruit that she couldn’t let get away.

“She followed me since she was at Penn State,” Alli Williams said. “With the interest they [St. Francis] showed in me, I could tell I wasn’t just anybody to them. They made me a priority.”

Several schools showed interest in Alli as she got offers from New Hampshire, Mount St. Mary’s, St. Joseph’s (plus a lot of other Atlantic 10 schools) and the Red Flash.

“We tried to look at everything from a pluses and minuses point of view,” Williams’ dad, Daryl, said. “In the end, when she started eliminating schools, it came down to the coaches, the community and the best fit for her.”

Williams narrowed her choices down to SFU and St. Joe’s, and after the Hawks put pressure on her to make a decision, Williams knew her mind was made up.

“She [Robinson-Fruchtl] did a nice job recruiting Alli,” Daryl, said. “She left it up to her and said it’s your decision to make. She never pressured her. She understood that some kids didn’t really know what they wanted to do but that they had to make the best decision for themselves.”

She selected the tiny school in Loretto over the Philadelphia program near the end of her junior year.

“The schools that had me on visits but didn’t offer [a scholarship], that made me wonder ‘Do I really want to go there if they don’t want me that much,'” Alli said.

The comfort of being so close to home (and Dani, who ran cross country and track for the Flash), the coaching staff and the small college environment was too much for Williams to pass up.

Freshman year

The team enjoyed great success as NEC player of the year, Sam Leach, led SFU to a Northeast Conference title game win over Monmouth.

The title meant the Flash had secured the program’s 11th title, by far an NEC record.

St. Francis, which ended the year 22-12, fell to Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Williams, who came off the bench to score 8.6 points and pull down 6.2 rebounds per game, was named to the conference’s postseason all-rookie team.

“Her freshman year was good. She had some ups and downs,” St. Francis coach Joe Haigh said. “She had a solid year scoring and rebounding We had a really talented team that year. She played, probably, about what we expected from her as a freshman.”

She had a season-high 29 points in a game against Kent State.

The year also proved to be an eye-opening experience that changed Williams from that point on.

“What I admire about her is that she was never satisfied with her game,” Moschella said. “When she went to the college game, she did everything possible to keep herself at the highest level she could.”

The transformation

Williams, after having spent a year at the collegiate level, realized that doing the same things she did in high school wasn’t going to cut it on this stage nothing was going to come easy and she wasn’t going to get by on her pure talent alone.

“It was a mindset I had. I took the summer and sacrificed a lot of things,” Alli said. “I’d wake up early to go work out, I changed my eating habits a little and I just focused on doing everything I could to get ready for the next season.”

Alli made a conscious effort to improve every aspect of her physicality by beginning a diet, working out more frequently and setting her mind to the fact that she would work as hard as she needed to become the best player she could be.

“I used to be up and ready to go to the gym, while Alli would still be lying In bed,” Dani said. “I annoyed her to the point that she wanted to do it. Now, with me living away, she realized that if she was going to work, she was going to have to do it by herself. To her credit, she continued working harder and harder to get to where she is today.”

“I don’t think that year was what she wanted,” Haigh said. “She went out on her own, sacrificed and changed her eating habits. She was working out all the time. She was a whole different athlete in the fall.”

Sophomore year

St. Francis began Williams’ second year with plenty of talent.

However, their two best players, Brittany Lilley and Shene Fleming, went down with ACL injuries before the year even began.

That thrust Williams into the spotlight and forced her to become a more vital part of what Robinson-Fruchtl wanted to do.

SFU finished 14-16 overall and tied for fourth place and had to travel to Robert Morris for its first-round playoff game where it lost to the Colonials.

Williams was selected to the conference’s second team as she responded by nearly doubling her scoring average from the first year to 16.9, while pulling down 8.8 boards a game while coming up with 2.96 steals per game.

She registered in double figures, scoring in 25 of 30 games, and she recorded a triple-double on Feb. 27 against Quinnipiac when she tallied 18 points, 15 rebounds and 12 steals.

Following the season, Robinson-Fruchtl took a job as the head coach at Providence.

“I had suggested to Alli that there was a possibility, with the resume and playing career that Susan had, that she might not be there the entire four years,” Daryl said. “So, it didn’t really come as a surprise to her when it happened.”

St. Francis moved ahead several weeks later and named Haigh, the assistant coach at St.?Francis, to run the Flash.

Throughout the entire waiting period, Williams never wavered on the fact that she would remain part of the program, no matter who came on board as the new coach.

“I just kind of figured everything would work out for the best,” Alli said. “I had it set in my mind that I was going to stay at St. Francis. I knew everything would work out.”

Junior year

Entering her third season, there was no doubt that Williams was the main cog for the Red Flash and the forward didn’t disappoint as she averaged a double-double with 17.0 points, 10.7 rebounds and finished fourth in the country with 3.60 steals a game (119 total a SFU single season record).

The Red Flash, who finished 17-16, made it all the way to the NEC championship game before falling to Quinnipiac. SFU, while failing to make it to the NCAA tourney, did qualify for the Women’s Basketball Invitational where it fell to Fairfield, 71-51.

She was tabbed on the NEC first team following a season in which she scored her 1,000th career point on Jan. 5 in a win over Bryant where she poured in a then career-high 30 points.

She also topped the 20-point mark 14 times on the season, scored in double figures in 29 of 33 games and achieved the honor of being named to the Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-American second team.

Senior year

Williams came into her final season playing at DeGol Arena as the clear-cut leader in every aspect, on and off the court.

She would be counted on to guide a six-member freshman class through a tough non-conference schedule before entering NEC play.

St. Francis got off to a slow start as it finished 2-9 in the early portion of the schedule, with Alli establishing a new career-high with 40 points in a victory at East Tennessee State.

They entered NEC play with victories in eight of their first 10 games before going through a stretch where they lost four of five games the only win coming on another 40-point night for Williams against Central Connecticut State.

She hit the 300 steals mark in a win against Fairleigh Dickinson on Jan. 11.

On Jan. 27, in a road win over LIU Brooklyn, Williams joined the 1,000 rebound club as she pulled down 14 in the game.

She then became part of the 2,000 point group when she scored 22 points in a loss at Mount St Mary’s on Feb. 24.

Last weekend the Flash put together a very impressive two games where they beat league-leader Robert Morris in a game that featured, for the first time in NEC play, two 2,000 point and 1,000 rebound players.

“I’ve come further than I expected,” Alli said. “I didn’t expect to come here and just be a role player but I also didn’t expect to score 2,000 points and have 1,000 rebounds either. That’s beyond what I expected of myself.”

The Red Flash then blew out Wagner to end the regular season as Williams scored 24 first-half points and 23 after halftime for a new school single-game record of 47.

“I felt, after watching her play as a freshman, that she would have success at St. Francis,” Daryl said. “But I never thought that she would be at the point she is now.”

She was recently named to the NEC first-team for the second straight year, and was also tabbed as a Capital One CoSIDA All-American.

“The proudest moment of my career was being named a Capital One All-American again,” Alli said. “It reflects what I have done in the classroom as well as on the court.”

In the classroom, she currently has a 3.86 grade-point average with a double major in Occupational Therapy and Psychology.

On the court, she is currently averaging 25.1 points a game, 10.1 rebounds and 3.14 steals a game while her team has a record of 13-16.

“We’ve played a ton of games,” Haigh said. “I know that there is nobody that plays harder and more consistently than what she does.”

She sits in second place in steals (345), field goals attempted (1,589), free throws made (529) and attempted (774), third place in points (2,086), rebounds (1,118) and field goals made (706), fifth in 3-point field goals made (145) and attempted (456) and tied for ninth in blocks with 66.

From time to time, Williams has wondered about how she fared – or matched up against – players from the bigger schools when the Red Flash have played them in non-conference games.

“I think it’s that way with all choices in life – you wonder if you made the right choice,” Alli said. “I’ve wondered if I could compete In other conferences and at different schools.”

However, it was never more than a comparison and check on her own abilities, as she never regretted or had second thoughts about choosing St. Francis.

“However, I don’t know if I would have achieved the same level of success at other schools,” Alli said. “I am happy about the choice I made and wouldn’t trade it.”

With this afternoon’s game against the Pioneers looming, Williams hopes to help push her as far as they can go in the NEC tournament – hoping that her career will end with one final trip to the NCAA tournament.

The Red Flash will need to win three straight NEC playoff games to advance to March Madness for the second time in her career.

“Take her off of our team, and I don’t know how many games we win in conference without her,” Haigh said.

That reality is far from out of the question as they have split the season series with six of the seven other teams in the playoff (they lost both games to fifth-seeded St. Francis Brooklyn.

The future

According to Haigh, Williams has yet to receive any offers to attend pre-draft camps for the WNBA but the coach said he is working on getting her that chance.

“It would be really humbling to play with some of the best players in the country,” Alli said. “The experience itself would be awesome.”

If not, overseas play is definitely an option that will more than likely present itself.

When asked if she ever saw herself getting into basketball in some capacity following her playing career, Williams didn’t hesitate.

“I don’t know about coaching. I can’t see myself as a coach,” Alli said. “But I can’t see my life without basketball either, so, we’ll see.”

Go ahead and tell Alli Williams she doesn’t belong. Go ahead and doubt her.

As she has proven time-and-time again, when she puts her mind to something, works hard to achieve it, great things have happened for the shy girl from the small town that went to the small university.