This is the eighth installment of "Cat Trax," a series of feature stories that will periodically appear on the UNH athletics Web site.
By Patrick Villanova, UNH Athletic Media Relations
Candace Williams’ (Norfolk, Mass.) importance to the University of New Hampshire’s women’s basketball team is undeniable. Whether it be pulling down crucial rebounds when a game is in the balance or playing over 35 minutes every game, her coaches and teammates all look to the junior forward to lead the way.
Aside from leading the Wildcats in nearly every statistical category, Williams is also the only player in the America East conference to rank in the top three in both scoring and rebounding. On the season, Williams has had 23 consecutive games in double figures and is the conference leader in rebounding and is third in scoring. The forward has earned eight double-doubles on the season, including four straight from Dec. 14 to Dec. 30, making her the only player to achieve the feat in almost 30 years.
However, the foundation of the Williams’ success on the court for the Wildcats was laid long before she ever put on a UNH jersey. It was her parents who taught her the valuable lessons of athletics that have helped guide her to the Division I level.
Williams’ father, Toby, played defensive lineman for the University of Nebraska and was a 10th round draft pick of the New England Patriots in 1983. Williams went on to play six seasons in the NFL, all with the Patriots. Williams’ mother, Christine, also attended the University of Nebraska, where she played basketball.
“My mom will laugh because she’ll say I look like my father when he used to jog out on to the field. She says I move the same way he does,” said Williams. “He’ll have games on T.V. now at Nebraska, on ESPN Classic, and they’ll show him, and it looks like me wearing a football helmet, just a lot bigger, but it’s just kind of funny. We have the same mannerisms.”
Among the many things her parents have instilled in Williams, she says her father taught her how to be mentally tough and maintain focus during games.
In fact, Williams says that most coaches have a hard time reading her body language, because she never shows emotion on the court, whether things are going her way or not.
“I don’t look happy, sad or angry,” said Williams. “If I score or have an awful play, I look the same all the time. My dad has always said don’t show emotion because it will get you more mentally unfocused.”
Williams' parents coached her from the age of seven, when she first started playing basketball up until high school and were critical in her development as a player.
“When coach (Cole) gets on me now it doesn’t bother me, because my dad used to be really harsh on me,” she said. “He’s been the hardest person on me, way harder than anyone.”
While Williams describes herself as a finesse player, her toughness and physical play are indisputable, as she leads the Wildcats in rebounding for the second consecutive season.
“Offensive rebounds are fun. I really get excited when my team shoots,” said Williams. “I just say to myself, ‘I’m going to get this rebound.’”
Although it was her dad who taught her lessons in mental toughness, Williams credits her tenacity on the offensive and defensive glass to her mother. When she was in high school, the two would often play physical games of one-on-one which helped turn Williams into a strong finisher.
“She’s the reason that I can rebound,” said Williams. “She’d take me to the YMCA and she’d tell me to shoot lay-ups. She’d be shoving me and throwing me on the ground. I guess I get ‘and-ones’ now because I’m used to getting clobbered.”
Offensively, Williams’ combination of size and ability to maneuver make her a dynamic threat to score both driving the lane or off the dribble with a midrange jumper.
“She’s very good with the ball in her hands off the dribble,” said Cole. “She can create not only for herself, but for other people.”
To prepare for the 2008-2009 campaign, Williams dedicated this past summer to working hard on her conditioning and strength training. She spent two weeks in Columbus, Ohio, where she worked out with NFL trainer Arnold Coleman at the Columbus Sports Connection. Coleman put her on a special program to continue after she left and also gave her diet and nutrition advice.
“I definitely feel more fit,” said Williams. “Endurance-wise and strength-wise, I am a lot stronger than I was last year.”
Cole has noticed the difference in the junior’s physical condition and performance this season. She said last year Williams was physically worn out by end of the season from continually playing over 35 minutes a game. However, with the work she put in during the off-season she is now able to play those type of minutes on a regular basis as she currently leads the conference in minutes during America East play.
“You can tell now that physically she is just so much stronger and in such better shape,” said Cole. “I think she will not only be able to continue playing significant minutes, but be able to maintain it throughout the season.”
Williams, who has led the team in scoring in 17 of its 23 games this season, hopes to improve upon the Wildcats’ America East record during the second round of conference games.
“We have a huge opportunity to place high in our conference and win a lot of games people probably don’t expect us to win,” Williams said.