The diminutive guard was a league MVP last season and has a talented group of Ravens around her that plans to contend at state.
Ralph Williams never sold his youngest daughter short, despite her lack of size.
And you shouldn’t either.
“I have a big heart,” said McKenzi Williams, admitting she’s closer to 5 feet 3 than the 5-6 she’s listed at on the Auburn Riverside High School basketball roster.
5 teams to watch
Federal Way: Just one starter returns for the two-time defending champ, but several others saw significant time and 6-5 Rashon Slaughter is back after two years at Decatur. Ranked No. 1 in Class 4A until proven otherwise.
Kentwood: The top five scorers — including SPSL co-MVP Darius LuBom — are back from a team that reached the title game last March, and the Conquerors have the potential to be even better than last year’s squad.
Kentridge: The Chargers always seem to be in the mix and could contend again, especially if they can develop a strong inside game to compliment their excellent guard play. Should be a good shooting team that shares the ball.
Kennedy Catholic: After reaching the state semis last year with a young club (finishing fifth), the Lancers are expected to fit right into this new league. They feature a pair of top guards, but should be balanced offensively.
Beamer: If the chase is for second place in the Olympic Division behind Federal Way, the Titans could be among those in the hunt — despite losing nine seniors from last year’s team. Must grow up in a hurry to be in that pack.
Auburn Riverside: The Ravens should rise to the challenge of stepping up a size in classification and are driven to erase the memory of last year’s 0-2 finish at state after a 23-0 start. McKenzi Williams and Olivia Denton make a dynamite 1-2 punch.
Beamer: A combination of size and speed should make the Titans formidable again, despite the loss of key starters. Others have waited their turn to step up in a program that produced back-to-back third-place state trophies.
Kentridge: Four starters return from last year’s playoff team, and the Chargers opened the season at No. 10. They are still young with multiple underclassmen playing key roles, including 6-4 sophomore JaQuaya Miller and a pair of talented freshmen.
Kentlake: Sydney Peterson (SPSL 4A Northeast MVP last year) is lost to a knee injury after leading the Falcons to the Final Eight, but they still have the pieces to contend. Jada Leonard and Aniston Denckla are highly regarded.
Tahoma: The Bears return a good core of players from last year’s playoff team and could be the best of the rest in the Cascade Division behind Kentridge and Kentlake. Ginny Mehl is a three-sport star and should be the anchor of the squad.
Her father saw it and always told her she had what it takes to play in college — something she hopes to prove as she closes out a decorated four-year career. It’s a mission made in his memory. Ralph Williams died in October 2015.
“He always believed in me,” McKenzi said. “I want to prove him right.”
Teammate and good friend Olivia Denton warns anyone who might underestimate her: “McKenzi plays like a monster.”
Williams is no hidden secret in the new North Puget Sound League and a key reason the Ravens were tabbed at No. 5 in the preseason state rankings. She was named the SPSL 3A player of the year as a junior and is even better this season, according to coach Christian Miller, who was an assistant in the program for three seasons and promoted after Derek Pegram stepped down last spring.
“She has amazing speed and athleticism and has worked tirelessly to improve her skills as a shooter and well-rounded point guard,” Miller said. “She is one of the most competitive people I know and she gives her all every time she is out on the court. She has never lost a conditioning drill.”
That dodgeball-bonding event the team had? Williams hustled and dived all over the floor the same way she does in basketball games.
“She competes with the best of them,” Auburn Mountainview coach Dustin DePiano said.
That was never more apparent than when Williams — a track-and-field athlete by nature — first tried basketball in sixth grade.
“I was horrible,” she recalled with a laugh — another of her trademarks (“She’s the funniest person I know,” Denton said.).
5 players to watch
Darius LuBom, Kentwood (6-0, Sr., G): Keyed Conks’ run to the title game last season and tabbed co-MVP of SPSL Northeast. Excellent athlete who can handle the ball, shoot, drive and defend.
Marcus Stephens, Federal Way (6-3, Sr., G): Lone returning starter for two-time state champions should have no problem handling a bigger role. Good shooter who is stellar in transition.
Emilio Mancol, Kennedy Catholic (5-9, Sr., G): Basketball junkie was Seamount player of the year as a junior and is adept at creating shots for himself with a quick release, but also shares the ball.
Jaden McDaniels, Federal Way (6-8, So., W): Younger brother of Jalen (all-state pick now at San Diego State) is in the same mold and ready to prove it. Can score in bunches.
Rayvaughn Bolton, Kentwood (6-2, Sr., G): Pinpoint passer has great vision and should be a more potent scorer this season. Finishes above the rim with the best of them.
JaQuaya Miller, Kentridge (6-4, So., P): Exploded on the scene last season and had a huge offseason to move into the national recruiting scene. Great finisher around the basket.
Jada Leonard, Kentlake (5-9, Sr., G): A relentless competitor who chases after every loose ball, Leonard plays with a contagious energy and can be a force on the boards.
Taylor Flores, Auburn Mountainview (5-6, So., G): A first-team All-SPSL 3A selection as a freshman, Flores has great vision and ball-handling skills, but can also score as needed.
Japhera McEachin, Beamer (5-4, Sr., G): No longer a role player, McEachin should have a breakout season and has the ability to be among the league leaders in scoring and steals.
Miyu Miyashita, Kennedy Catholic (5-3, Sr., G): Miyashita makes her presence known at both ends of the court as a top defender and offensive general with precision passes.
She could fly up and down the court, but while she went one way, the basketball seemed to go the other. So Williams worked and worked until it became second nature.
“I just kept on playing and playing, because I knew if I didn’t get better, I should quit,” she said.
And, to Williams, quitting wasn’t an option.
She made big strides the following year and was good enough to start for Riverside as a freshman.
Williams averaged 12.5 points, five assists, five rebounds and three steals her sophomore year, then increased those numbers as a junior (16.5 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four steals).
The Ravens were 23-0 at one point last season and appeared primed for their first real run at a state title since winning the Class 4A crown in 2010. But Williams suffered a hamstring injury in the district championship game, their first defeat, and barely hobbled through the regional loss to Edmonds-Woodway.
That only fueled the desire this season. For those who question whether Auburn Riverside is up to the challenge in Class 4A, Williams has a message, one buoyed by the school’s recent state championship in volleyball:
“We work as hard as any other team and we can hang with anybody in the state,” she said.