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Duke commit Taylor Williams’ star shines bright for Saint Francis

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Taylor Williams had 22 kills, three blocks and three aces in a 3-1 win over Archbishop Mitty on Tuesday. (Fausto Ibarra)

Before Taylor Williams and her teammates at Saint Francis (Mountain View, Calif.) step onto the court, they dance, and the songs they choose run the gamut. From typical pump-up music to power ballads like High School Musical 2’s “Gotta Go My Own Way,” the Lancers let loose before every game.

It appears to be working.

The No. 11 Lancers are 34-0 after beating Archbishop Mitty 3-1 (25-20, 25-20, 16-25, 25-22) on Tuesday to win the California Interscholastic Federation NorCal title. Williams scored the match-winning point that advanced the Lancers to the state title game, finishing with 22 kills, three blocks and three aces and earning JWS Player of the Week honors along the way.

“I think we were all very nervous going into that game. We knew it was such an important game to win,” said Williams, a junior outside hitter. “We were confident. We played them so many times. I think everyone did their job. I think it’s some of the best level we’ve ever played.”

The matchup felt familiar to Saint Francis. On their home court, the team beat Archbishop Mitty for the sixth time this season. While Saint Francis might make it look easy, staying undefeated has been quite the challenge.

“A lot of people will take a look at our record and just assume it’s been a super smooth ride and that we’ve beat up on teams, but we’ve been pushed a lot this year,” Lancers coach Lake Merchen said. “It seems like every time the team across the net finds a way to get the advantage on us, they start pushing us really hard.

“We do a great job of maintaining our calm and responding really aggressively.”

Williams stepped up as a breakout star at the end of last season, filling the shoes of an injured senior, and she hasn’t relinquished the role since then. Prior to the start of the CIF Open Division tournament, Williams recorded 343 kills, 191 digs, 34 aces and 28 blocks, and while her stats are impressive, it’s her quiet leadership that emanates on the court.

“She’s learned how to support the people around her,” Merchen said. “I think she’s now the player everyone looks to in big moments, not just for big swings and big blocks, but someone who can be their rock. If Taylor looks good, if Taylor looks confident, we can be confident.”

Williams started playing volleyball when she was 8 years old. She was introduced to the game by her friend and current teammate, junior setter Hannah Maguire.

“Her mom played volleyball in college, so I think I was just best friends with her daughter. I thought it would be a fun thing to go and start playing volleyball,” Williams said. “I kind of just loved it ever since.”

In seventh grade, Williams decided to take volleyball more seriously. At the time, she was also playing basketball, so she quit and devoted nearly all her time and attention to volleyball, with the intention of someday playing at the Division I level. And it worked.

In September, Williams committed to Duke, a school known for both great athletics and academics.

For now, Williams is focused on what’s right in front of her, a state championship matchup against Cathedral Catholic, the No. 1 team in the country in the final JWS volleyball team rankings.

“We’re so ready to do it. Just for our last game of the season, we’re just super motivated,” Williams said. “We want to play our best. We want to play as a team. We want to be able to represent our school at state.

“I think we’re really excited to be there and compete against the best team in the nation.”

And on Saturday, before stepping onto the state championship stage, the Lancers will dance one last time.

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.