Missy Peterson’s first and arguably most important assist this season came last spring when she helped convince her best friend and roommate Haley Van Dyke to remain with the Washington women’s basketball team.
Van Dyke, the Huskies’ leading scorer last season, was in the NCAA transfer portal and ready to commit to another school when she got a call from Peterson, who urged her to talk to new UW coach Tina Langley before leaving Montlake.
“I had one conversation with Tina, just one and it was our first conversation,” Peterson said. “She met with the seven to eight of us that were still on the roster and she was phenomenal from the jump. I got a really good feeling and good vibe off of her.
“The first thing I did after I got off the phone with Tina was call Haley because I knew if one coach could change Haley’s mind and convince her to stay here it was Tina. And she did it.”
Said Van Dyke: “Missy called me right after and I had never heard her speak so highly of someone. She said you have to talk to her. She is amazing and you’re going to love her. … I texted Tina and we talked for like three hours and I knew right away I’m staying and I can’t leave because she’s amazing.
“Me and Missy are really similar personality wise. She’s very intuitive about people. If she could read Tina like that, I knew I could, too. … I’m really glad I stayed and I’ve got Missy to thank for it.”
If Peterson can deliver a few more assists like Van Dyke this season, then her transition back from the wing to point guard will be seamless in her return to the court after a yearlong layoff due to a left ACL injury.
The 5-foot-11 guard, who started the previous two seasons, had her senior year derailed during the second day of practice in 2020 when she drove to the basket, felt her knee pop and buckle before crashing to the court.
“I knew,” Peterson said. “It felt like to me it was a season-ending injury. Just the pain and the way it felt. I couldn’t get up and I’ve never felt anything like that before. I knew that it wasn’t good. I tried to stay positive and keep my mind right until I knew for sure until I got my results back. But I was preparing for the worst because I knew it wasn’t good.
“I knew I couldn’t spend too much time feeling sorry for myself because I had a team I wanted to help out and lead and a lot of young kids I wanted to direct and get them through their first year of college ball in the Pac-12. I tried to stay positive. But the recovery process was hard.”
Fortunately for Peterson, she had done this before.
The former Edmonds-Woodway High star missed most of her senior season and her UW freshman season was delayed because of a foot injury that required surgery. She also suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in her knee in a game at Washington State that prematurely ended her freshman season on Jan. 17, 2018.
Peterson hit a high mark during her UW tenure as a sophomore when she led the Huskies in three-point shooting percentage (36.4%) and was second on the team in scoring at 9.4 points.
The 2018-19 season began with a scintillating three-game performance at the Gulf Coast Showcase while averaging 14.7 points and shooting 53.1 percent from the field. And the season ended with a spectacular showing at the Pac-12 tournament that started with a 23-point outburst in a first-round upset win over No. 6 seed Utah.
In the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals, Peterson hit one of the biggest shots in recent UW history — a deep three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left to give the No. 11 seed Huskies a stunning 68-67 upset win over No. 3 seed Oregon State, which was ranked 11th nationally. She finished with 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
Peterson backtracked as a junior while her scoring (7.0 points per game), rebounding (3.2), minutes (23.5), field-goal percentage (37.2%) and three-point percentage (35.2%) took a dip from the previous season.
Following last year’s injury and coaching change, Peterson was determined to return to Washington for one last season.
“It’s my hometown,” she said. “I went through hell and back with this team. We’ve gone through quite the roller-coaster ride, but one thing that I cherish more than anything is how we stuck together as a team. We battled through thick and thin. It would have broke my heart to leave these girls and go somewhere else. I wanted to stick it out and have one last great year.”
Langley moved Peterson to point guard in part due to her experience at the position and UW’s dearth of veteran ballhandlers. Freshman Avery VanSickle, who was rated the No. 17 point guard recruit nationally by ESPN in 2021, hasn’t made an appearance this season.
Meanwhile, Peterson is averaging 8 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists to offset eight turnovers in two games — a pair of UW wins.
“She just added more to her game,” Van Dyke said. “She can still score and do the things she did before, but she just added that leadership/facilitator piece because we didn’t have a point guard so she needed to take over that role.”
At 2 p.m. Saturday, the Huskies (2-0) face their biggest challenge of the season when No. 10 Louisville (2-1) visits Seattle.
Peterson, who knows a thing or two about playing in big games, isn’t focusing on what’s expected to be a robust Alaska Airlines Arena crowd or her anticipated matchup against Cardinals sophomore standout Hailey Van Lith, a 2020 McDonald’s All-American who starred at Cashmere High in Wenatchee.
“It’s a big game and there’s going to be a lot of people there, but it’s important for us to focus on ourselves,” Peterson said. “The keys to the game are to not get outside of ourselves and not stress about the outside things, but to stay focused within our team and use our culture to lead our team.”
The chance to play once again in a top-10 matchup is what drove Peterson during a difficult 10-month rehabilitation that included a few setbacks.
“I knew I had a lot of unfinished business on this court and for this team and this program,” she said. “But the goal was for sure to get back.
“I want to be able to leave this program and be remembered for being a good leader, a good teammate and someone that people liked being on the floor with. Someone who could bring a sense of calmness to the floor and be trusted with the ball in my hands. But also someone that people had fun playing with and working with as a teammate.”