Kansas State University

How Peyton Williams learned to juggle basketball and volleyball for Kansas State

K-State’s Peyton Williams competes against Clemson at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kansas on September 5, 2019.
K-State’s Peyton Williams competes against Clemson at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kansas on September 5, 2019.

Peyton Williams is practicing her serve with the Kansas State volleyball team inside Ahearn Fieldhouse. She’s sending the ball over the net with enough velocity that her teammates are having trouble sending it back, but things feel a bit off for some reason, so she stays late after practice and tries to perfect her form by slamming volleyballs into a padded wall.

It looks like she is putting the finishing touches on a long afternoon of work, but her day is far from over.

After Williams leaves volleyball practice, she heads across campus to K-State’s basketball training facility to work on her jump shot and sprint up and down the court until the point of exhaustion.

Throw in a full load of classes on top of her athletic obligations and it’s easy to see why Williams made sure to watch her favorite Netflix show when she sat down for dinner that night.

“With my schedule,” Williams said, “there’s very little time for much else other than school and sports.”

This is what life looks like for a two-sport athlete at the college level. It isn’t for the faint of heart. Williams is both a star forward for the K-State women’s basketball team and a standout middle blocker for the K-State volleyball team. That’s a rare combination. In today’s age of specialization, she is one of just four student-athletes who currently plays both sports for a Division I school.

Even more rare: Williams plays both sports at a high level.

K-State forward Peyton Williams fights for a rebound at USA Basketball tryouts (Courtesy Photo: USA Basketball)

The 6-foot-4 senior from Topeka has earned All-Big 12 accolades in volleyball and she has done even more on the basketball court. Last summer, she was selected to play for Team USA at the Pan American Games alongside the best college women’s basketball players in the country. She is a preseason candidate for several national awards and a potential WNBA Draft pick after her college career comes to an end.

“Her coaches on the Pan Am team were amazed when they found out she played volleyball,” K-State women’s basketball coach Jeff Mittie said. “They couldn’t believe it. They had a lot of questions about how in the world she could make that work. The one thing I told them was, ‘She picks things up really, really quickly.’ If she didn’t, it would be very hard for her to do what she is doing.”

Williams is also no slouch in the class room. The Big 12 thought enough of her accomplishments to name Williams a conference scholar-athlete of the year for 2019.

As an anthropology major, she aspires beyond athletics. But she would love the opportunity to combine her passions and play basketball overseas at some point.

How does she do it all?

Let’s start from the beginning.

Williams was also a multi-sport athlete in high school and she encountered quite the dilemma when Fritz and then Mittie both offered her a scholarship to play in Manhattan. She liked both teams so much that she couldn’t choose between them.

After weeks of debate, her father suggested she try playing both sports. Williams didn’t know that was possible in college, but when she ran the idea by Fritz and Mittie they were surprisingly receptive. All parties agreed she would attend K-State on a basketball scholarship, focusing on hoops exclusively during her first year on campus before juggling both sports from then on.

“My biggest fear was, what if I stick with one and then come to realize I don’t like this one and ruined my chance with the other one,” Williams said. “As long as the coaches were on board that’s what I wanted to do, because I was young and didn’t really know how to make that decision.”

It’s funny how things turned out.

Her first year of basketball was so difficult that she considered quitting the team and only playing volleyball the following year. But when volleyball turned out to be just as trying, she contemplated giving up that sport and only playing basketball.

Somehow, she is still playing both years later.

“I’ve never met anyone else who does this, so it’s a unique position,” Williams said. “It has its perks and its downsides. You are the only one doing it, so you are the only one kind of knowing what is happening and that can be frustrating. But you also get to be a part of two really great programs. That has been the best thing for me, getting to know two great groups of women. I can’t thank the coaches enough for letting me do this.”

Hopefully her next choice, between returning to K-State for a fifth year to play volleyball or moving on to a professional career, will be simpler.

Extra athleticism

Playing multiple sports comes with certain benefits.

Her experience leaping over the net and spiking balls on the volleyball court has made Williams one of the top shot-blockers in the Big 12. And the endurance she has gained on the basketball court has made volleyball games feel like a breeze.

She jumps with volleyball and runs with basketball. All those workouts help her stay in shape no matter the time of year.

“I am someone who likes diversity,” Williams said. “Doing a variety of different things helps me when I move from one team to another. It helps me stay fresh.”

Still, it isn’t easy. She is constantly on the go and keeping her energy levels up can be a challenge. This is her busiest time of year. Six games remain in volleyball season and basketball begins on Friday. Her schedule was so hectic that she had to miss K-State’s first exhibition basketball game last month.

In year’s past, she occasionally traveled separately from the rest of the volleyball team in order to make every several game. But the Wildcats have backed off that strategy after learning how to best manage her time.

“We just have to work smarter,” Mittie said. “I always tell Peyton that we have to work smart. We don’t have as many hours with her so we have to maximize those hours, both for her as an individual and us as a team.”

Some have wondered what her ceiling might be if she only played basketball. Williams averaged 15.5 points and 9.5 rebounds while splitting time between two sports last year and should be even better this season. Perhaps she could be an All-American if she played hoops all year long?

Then again, it’s hard to tell a gifted multi-tasker to specialize on one thing.

No one is complaining about the way things have worked out. Williams enjoys her hectic schedule, and two K-State teams are proud to call her their own.

“What Peyton is doing is extremely special,” Mittie said. “I think Peyton is who she is, because of how diverse her interests are and how diverse her talents are. I think we should just appreciate Peyton for who she is and help her in any way we can as she plays two sports.”

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Kellis Robinett covers Kansas State athletics for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. A winner of more than a dozen national writing awards, he lives in Manhattan with his wife and three children.