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Apr. 20—Kiana Williams was a redshirt when Lackawanna College advanced to the NJCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Championships in 2019.

Redshirts can practice with the team but are not permitted to travel. So when the Lady Falcons headed to Arkansas for the national tournament, the Mid Valley graduate had to stay behind.

“It definitely was tricky to see them go without me, especially since I was involved in all that,” Williams said. “I was still part of the team and rooting for them in every way possible.

“Looking back, it makes me more grateful for the opportunity I have now. I heard all about it from my teammates two years ago. But it’s definitely better if I experience it myself and see what it’s all about.”

Now, Williams has that chance.

Lackawanna is in the NJCAA Division II Championships at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, North Carolina. The Lady Falcons (12-4) are seeded 15th in the 16-team, double-elimination tournament and face No. 2 Lake Land College, Illinois (21-2) in the first round today at 3 p.m.

Lackawanna is a young team with eight freshmen. So as a sophomore, team captain and lone local player on the roster, Williams has

taken a leadership role.

“I tried to take my experiences from when I was a freshman and some of what I needed to hear and instill it in them,” Williams said. “Especially since I live in Scranton and I know the area more than they do. I just kind of guided them, told them what they needed to know and help them out in any way I could.”

Being a leader has helped boost her confidence. In 16 games, Williams averages 8.3 points and 7.8 rebounds and has 44 blocks.

Williams grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked five shots in the Lady Falcons’ come-from-behind win over Niagara County Community College in the East B District final that earned them a berth in the national tournament.

Head coach Joya Whittington said Williams is playing her best basketball.

“She protects our rim and she’s starting to score for us,” Whittington said. “She’s always been good for four, six points a game. Now she’s getting eight to 10 points a game. She’s getting boards for us, blocking shots all over the gym. She’s playing the best I’ve seen her in her career.”

Lake Land is a veteran squad with 10 sophomores and three freshmen. Sophomore guards Kamaria Gant (15.1 ppg) and Abby Weis (12.8) are the Lady Lakers’ leading scorers and sophomore forward Tresoir Newson is the leading rebounder (6.5).

However, Whitington said Lackawanna has a slight size advantage and believes the 6-foot-1 Williams can be a big factor today.

“This game in particular is a great matchup for her,” Whittington said. “She can really be the difference with her size. This team is coming at us with nobody of her size.”

Williams is looking forward to the challenge.

“I’m excited to see the matchup,” she said. “Hopefully, I can use that to my advantage to score the ball more and have a lot of stops on defense.”

The 2019 Lackawanna team finished fourth in the national tournament. Williams believes this team can duplicate or even exceed that.

“We just need to keep our heads, play the game we always play and do the best we can do,” Williams said. “We’re definitely more than capable of winning.

“I want to do all I can do while we’re here and make sure my team knows this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My first year, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get the chance to be able to do this. Now that we’re actually here, I want to get it in everyone’s heads that this is a small opportunity that we’re getting.”

If Lackawanna wins, it advances to face the winner of the game between No. 7 seed Arkansas State Mid-South (22-1) and No. 10 seed USC-Salkehatchie (18-0) on Wednesday at 9 p.m. If the Lady Falcons lose, they face the ASU Mid-South-USC Salkehatchie loser in the consolation round Thursday at 9 a.m.

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