|Williams has seen her block totals decrease, as opponents grew weary of even challenging her in the paint.
Stockton Athletics photo
By Andrew Lovell
Sasha Williams appreciates the awards and honors she's racked up in her career, but she rejects the possibility that their meaning could ever surpass team accomplishments.
That's not exactly surprising. After all, the Stockton University senior forward is quite adept at rejecting things, chief among them being field-goal attempts by opposing players.
Williams enters Wednesday night's key home game against NJAC rival TCNJ with 503 career blocked shots. Williams is one of just three players in Division III women's basketball history with 500-plus blocks, trailing only Denison graduate Jordan Holmes (642) and Mary Washington graduate Liz Hickey (510).
Williams also topped 1,000 career rebounds earlier this season for the Ospreys (11-7, 7-4 NJAC), becoming the first female or male player in school history to eclipse that total. She's been named the NJAC Defensive Player of the Year in each of her first three seasons, along with two NJAC first-team all-conference nods, two D3hoops.com all-Atlantic region second team nods, and a slew of NJAC Player of the Week awards (including four so far this season).
"It's definitely a great accolade to have, but I really don't look at that," Williams said. "I like to win. Just go out there and get a win each game."
"Honestly, it's crazy to think about," Williams added. "I never came into college thinking that I was going to have all these accomplishments, especially Defensive Player of the Year three times."
The 6-foot-2 Williams didn't begin playing organized basketball until the eighth grade, but she immediately asserted herself as a strong defender because of her height and long reach. Williams, a Cherry Hill, N.J., native, said she's always had a natural inclination toward blocking shots, and she's further honed her skills at Stockton under head coach Joe Fussner.
Fussner, who picked up his 400th win as the Ospreys' head coach on Jan. 10, has pushed Williams throughout her career to become a more dominant presence. Williams recalled one such occasion from her freshman season, when Fussner addressed her, rather bluntly, in front of the team at halftime against TCNJ.
|Not just a defensive stopper, Williams is a double-double machine.
Stockton Athletics photo
"He said, 'The word on the street is that Sasha's soft,'" Williams said. "I was like, 'No, I'm not soft.' After that I went on the court and I had a game. I've never played bad at TCNJ ever again because I always have that memory."
Williams finished that particular game with 11 points, seven rebounds and seven blocks, and finished her freshman season averaging just shy of a double-double (9.6 points, 10.2 rebounds) along with a school-record 153 blocks for the NCAA-bound Ospreys. Williams averaged a double-double (12.8 points, 12.0 rebounds) and broke her own record with 175 blocks as a sophomore, and Stockton again qualified for the NCAA playoffs.
But after consecutive 20-plus-win seasons, the team slipped to 17-9 last season, missing the NCAA tournament. Williams was again solid, averaging 14.5 points and 10.0 rebounds, but her blocks dipped to "only" 104 in 26 games. Through 18 games this season, Williams has 71 blocks, so she's easily on pace to pass Hickey for second place all-time.
Williams's reputation as one of Division III's all-time great shot blockers has forced opposing teams to game plan around her.
"I'm not blocking as much because I'm such a presence in the paint that nobody wants to really come in," Williams said. "I think my presence has definitely been on the rise. It's not just my shot-blocking; you really don't see teams attacking us well when I'm in the paint."
"If you are," Williams added, "you really gotta be bold."
Stockton enters Wednesday's game against TCNJ on a solid four-game conference winning streak, spurred largely by a key trio of seniors: Williams, guard Lea Mendolla, and forward Najha Treadwell. The three account for 44.6 points per game, which equals nearly 62 percent of the team's offensive output.
Williams, a criminal justice major, said the team is focused on finishing strong in NJAC play and returning to the NJAC conference title game for the first time since Williams's freshman year. If that goes well, another NCAA trip could be in the cards.
Barring something wildly unforeseen, Williams will finish her collegiate career as the No. 2 shot-blocker in Division III women's basketball history. Williams said she will be proud of that fact, but she'll be more proud she did it her way, with her authentic game, and picked up plenty of wins along the way.
"I love blocking shots," Williams said. "That would be a great accomplishment to know that I didn't leave that game behind in high school."