Christyn Williams is a McDonald’s All-American, the Naismith High School National Player of the Year, Women’s Basketball Coaches Association National Player of the Year, a three-time Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year and MVP of the Class 4A State Tournament — and the awards will keep coming.
But Central Arkansas Christian’s recent state championship “is up there” on her list of accomplishments, mainly because of her three senior teammates.
“We’re all best friends,” she said of Jenna Davis, Kelson Miller and Alexa Mashburn, the heart of the team that brought the program’s fourth state title to Mustang Mountain, 11 years after three consecutive championships.
In the press conference following CAC’s 68-57 win over Riverview at Hot Springs’ Bank of the Ozarks Arena that capped the best season in school history — 36-1 — Williams said the accomplishment hadn’t hit her yet.
“I’m sure I’m going to cry,” she said. “We’re all best friends, and we love each other so much, so for this to be our last game is kind of bittersweet.
“I’m super proud of my team. We worked so hard for this. This is amazing.”
While Williams has been the acknowledged star, CAC coach Steve Quattlebaum moved the four up to the varsity squad together as freshmen. In four seasons, they put together a 117-22 mark — an .841 winning percentage.
As freshmen in 2015, they finished 28-4 in the state quarterfinals. As sophomores in 2016, they went 24-12 and reached the Class 4A state final, marking the school’s fifth appearance in a state championship game in 11 years. As juniors last year, they were disappointed to finish 29-5 in the state quarterfinals.
During their run, the Lady Mustangs were undefeated in conference play for two years, won three conference championships and continued the school’s 18-year streak of reaching the state tournament. The streak was in danger in 2016 after CAC finished fifth in the conference and had to knock off Pocahontas, one of the state’s top teams, to qualify.
What set them apart this season was their single-minded determination to complete their goal — and the improvement of all four.
“I would hate to be the coach that has to coach against this team,” Quattlebaum said during the post-game press conference. “When we lost the first time here (in the 2016 state final), we weren’t a real balanced team, but today — I think you saw that in the first half.”
Williams, the 5-10 shooting guard, finished the championship game with 42 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, two blocks and one assist. Davis (5-11 forward) had six points, five rebounds and one assist); Miller (5-6 point guard) recorded six points, eight rebounds, five assists and a steal. Mashburn (5-11 forward) played “the game of her life,” Quattlebaum said, with 10 points, four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one steal.
“We have seen very little junk defenses this year because our other players have picked their games up so much,” Quattlebaum said. “I don’t know how you defend us. We’ve talked about it as coaches — we’re a hard team to guard.”
For the season, Williams averaged 26.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks; Davis 11.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists; Miller 3.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals and Mashburn 3 points and 3.3 rebounds.
The four have played basketball together for years — Williams, Davis and Miller since third grade; Mashburn joined them two years later. Williams included her classmates in November in the announcement that she would sign with Connecticut; the three led a husky onto Coach Q Court, to the delight of a packed house on signing day.
“You can only imagine how close we all are,” Davis said after the game. “I’m just really emotional. I’m going to miss my girls so much.”
Williams is the only one of the four who’ll play college basketball.
“I’m definitely just glad this is the group of girls I got to play with,” Miller said. “No matter what, we’ve always been there for each other. We always get along and have fun on and off the court. We’re constantly building each other up, and it’s just an honor to have been able to play with them.”
Mashburn said joining the triplets in fifth grade was the best decision of her young life.
“I’ve not only made lifelong friends but also have gotten an opportunity to play with the No. 1 recruit in the nation and a UConn signee,” she said. “It has been a blast and I’ll truly miss it, but I know they are like my sisters and that we will be lifelong friends.”
Quattlebaum said it had been so long since the last one in 2007, he was beginning to wonder if another title would come.
“It took a special group of kids to get us back all the way, and the way they did it is kind of special,” he said. “They’re such a close group. And they were probably one of the easiest teams I’ve ever had to coach. They really are great kids, and they get along so well, and they all have great leadership abilities.
“As a group, I’m not sure we’ve ever had that.”
Williams said after the championship game the accomplishment represented more than words could describe.
“We’ve been working so hard,” she said. “ All those hours in the gym, and for it to finally come true, it’s just amazing.”
She said the title was “almost No. 1” on her long — and growing — list of accomplishments.
“It’s something that I’d written down a while ago, and I failed at it once before, so for me to actually achieve it makes it that much better,” she said.
Asked about her legacy, one of the most decorated players in Arkansas high school history said, “It’s been an amazing ride.”
“As a freshman, I didn’t realize I was going to do all this,” she said. “I just loved the game of basketball and continued to work hard at it, and things happened.
“I’m super grateful for the God-given ability.”