SENIOR SERIES: A profile look at triumphs and struggles experienced by some Aurora senior prep athletes in the time of the coronavirus pandemic:
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
Lily Williams just has to look at the stuffed animals and vibrant color scheme of her room to be reminded about her bright future.
The decension of the coronavirus pandemic has made a lot of things unclear, but the Grandview High School senior track star possesses an unwavering belief in the place she’ll continue an athletic career she hopes takes her to the next level.
Her senior season wiped out because of the pandemic, Williams must move on without the chance to add to a resume that includes a Class 5A state team championship, five event titles and one of the most memorable upset victories in recent history to her credit. That she’ll be at Baylor University when things clear still brings a smile to her face.
“I knew it as soon as I stepped foot on the campus,” Williams told the Sentinel. “I obviously kept my mind open when I went to other schools, but my heart knew where I wanted go while my brain was still sorting it out. …It’s very comforting knowing that I’m still so happy and I don’t have one less ounce of joy than I did back in November.
“I have three stuffed animal bears and there’s green and yellow Baylor stuff all over my room, so I know I made the right choice.”
As thrilled as Williams remains to head to Baylor, the Bears are equally pleased to have her on the way to Waco when the time is right.
“Lily is an awesome young lady, on and off the track,” Baylor coach Michael Ford said in a statement after National Signing Day last November. “She will definitely help us in the 400 meters, 4×4 (relay) and possibly 600 yards.”
Interestingly enough, Williams — one of three Aurora track athletes who never got a chance to defend state championships — a list that also includes Eaglecrest junior Langston Williams (400 meters) and Vista PEAK’s Raina Branch senior (4A high jump) were the others — will join forces at Baylor with former Denver East star Arria Minor.
Minor, who recently announced her transfer from Georgia, won 12 state championships in the Colorado, but it was Williams who denied her No. 13 — as well as the state team title — back in 2017. A day after she set the Colorado record in the 400 meters, Minor was seemingly cruising to the title before Williams (then a sophomore) surged to beat her to the finish line by a 0.09 of a second.
Williams’ victory also denied Minor’s Angels of key team points, which eventually left them one short of Cherokee Trail for the state title, prompting some of the Cougars to want to make Williams an honorary team member for her help.
That was just one chapter of a memorable and impactful prep track and field career for Williams, who was part of Grandview’s team that overwhelmed the state to win the 5A state title in her freshman season of 2016.
In her senior year, Williams would have been trying to chase down her third straight 400 title and also wanted to win the 800 after she was a close second last season to now-graduated Marlena Preigh of Fairview.
Williams in particular has had a hard time knowing she won’t run with fellow senior Kameryn Brown, her relay teammate for the previous three seasons (and a recent Sacramento State signee). The pair won state championships together on the 4×200 meter relay as freshmen in 2017 — when Grandview rolled to the 5A state team championship — and took another title in the 4×400 relay in 2018.
On top of the team crown, Williams finished with five state championships (two individually and three with relays) and was the runner-up in three other races. The only time she appeared in a state race and wasn’t first or second was with Grandview’s sixth-place 4×100 relay last year.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Williams has kept up her training in a small group with two other athletes — Claire Applegate of Arapahoe and Abigail Brown, a Castle Rock native who runs for Miami (Ohio) — and uses multiple tracks and observes proper social distancing throughout.
She notes the predominantly good weather this spring has made the absence of meets particularly pronounced.
“We’ve had those really nice days and I’m sitting there thinking ‘I could be under a tent right now with my team at a meet at Stutler (Bowl) or Legacy (Stadium),'” she said, wistfully, nothing that she trains harder on Saturdays to approximate competition.
Williams remembers the weeks of practice before the season being more about Grandview athletes enjoying each other’s company than about training, which in the long run will enhance the memories more than competition would have.
“In that moment, we weren’t really grateful for each practice, we joked around and messed around a little bit,” Williams admitted. “The first couple of days we wanted to see each other more than run. Looking back on it, those team times were I think what we needed.”
For now, Williams’ future is at Baylor — where she is undecided on what she will concentrate her studies on — but she doesn’t plan to stop running there.
If she stays healthy and focused during her college career, she has the Summer Olympics in 2024 — currently scheduled to be held in Paris — on her radar.
“It’s about how hard you work and where your mentality is, so we’ll see how it all plays out,” Williams said. “For right now, I don’t plan on stopping. As long as the sport brings me joy, I will do it.”
SENTINEL PREPS’ SENIOR SERIES