Maisy Williams was counting the days.
Sitting in the emergency room at an Auburn hospital with a broken jaw, the Black Hills High School forward started calculating when she could return to the court.
“She’s been able to keep focused on what she wants, and her goals as far as basketball,” Black Hills coach Tanya Greenfield said. “She’s been incredibly focused on getting past it.”
Williams took a knee to the jaw in November, during a preseason jamboree game against Kentridge. Her jaw broke in two places.
She spent two months of her junior season watching from the bench, and five weeks with her jaw wired shut, eating a liquid-based diet.
There was a lot of anger, and there were a lot of tears, Greenfield said.
But, on Jan. 24, in front of her home crowd, Williams returned to her familiar spot beneath the basket.
The sixth-ranked Wolves are on a four-game winning streak since their 6-foot standout returned, and beat their final four regular-season opponents by an average margin of 40 points.
Welcome back, Williams.
“Coming back to basketball has been fun,” Williams said. “It’s been a lot better than sitting and watching.”
Williams has averaged 10.8 points per game since her return — including a season-high 16 at Centralia — on her way to first-team 2A Evergreen Conference honors for the second straight season.
Centralia coach Doug Ashmore said it didn’t look like Williams had missed the first 16 games of the season.
“Same kid, same athlete,” he said. “No worries about the jaw, or the teeth with the freak accidents. She’s still playing hard.”
But the road back to basketball has been a long one.
During the past year, dating back to the Wolves’ 2A state-semifinal appearance in Yakima last March, Williams has endured two traumatic mouth injuries.
The Wolves, the top-ranked 2A program in the state at the time, were in a battle with Burlington-Edison at the Yakima Valley SunDome, with a trip to the championship game on the line.
Williams, the game’s leading scorer with 21 points, was elbowed in the face fighting for a loose ball with three minutes to play.
It didn’t hurt, but she felt pressure, she said, and noticed something white had fallen on the floor.
“What I saw was what everybody saw,” Greenfield said. “The tooth hit the floor, and I thought it was gum. Then I said, ‘Maisy doesn’t chew gum,’ and I knew right away.”
Williams missed the rest of the game, the and the Tigers held on to a 59-55 win to send Black Hills to the consolation bracket.
The Wolves were shocked and concerned for Williams, who was taken to an emergency dentist. Later that night, she asked Greenfield if she could play in the final game of the season the next day, but the injury was too severe.
“Trying to get over the trauma of watching a teammate and best friend get knocked out … we didn’t get over that overnight,” Greenfield said.
Greenfield didn’t expect her team to. Without Williams, the Wolves lost to W.F. West, a team they had beat three times earlier in the season, and finished fifth.
The following weeks involved a lot of dental appointments, Williams said. She had two root canals and some artificial braces put on.
She was able to play during her AAU season, and helped Black Hills reach the state playoffs in volleyball in the fall.
She seemed primed to improve on her sophomore season, where she averaged 11.2 points, eight rebounds and three blocks per game as an Olympian All-Area pick.
Then, against Kentridge, she took a knee to the jaw.
“She was going after a loose ball in the middle of the key,” Greenfield said. “They got the ball, and I was watching the transition, and someone said, ‘Maisy is down.’ ”
“I didn’t have any teeth that were out,” Williams remembered. “I definitely knew something was wrong, but a couple of minutes after it happened, I was ready to go back in.”
Again, the injury was too severe, so she started the long road to recovery.
“There was a lot of mental challenge,” Williams said. “I expected more from myself, especially this season. I expected myself to really go off.”
But, from the sideline, she improved her game in other ways. Her basketball IQ has gone up, Greenfield says, and she’s learned a lot about shot selection, defense and the importance of running through plays correctly.
“There’s a lot of learning how my teammates play,” Williams said. “You see a lot more when you watch. I feel like I’ve been learning just as much watching as I have playing.”
There were some games early on against tough teams, though, she says she was frustrated she couldn’t make a difference on the floor.
“I learned quickly that I have the best team in the world,” Williams said. “No matter how frustrated I got, I knew they were going out there and trying their hardest. That helped subside how frustrated or angry I might have been.”
Black Hills was still able to secure the No. 2 seed out of the 2A Evergreen Conference in Williams’ absence, but she was certainly a big addition when she returned.
“They already play hard without her, but I think she elevates everyone else,” Ashmore said. “Especially in their press package, she just brings a different dynamic.”
Plus, her rebounding on defense limits a lot of second-chance opportunities, he said.
Perhaps most noticeable is Williams hasn’t lost her edge on the floor.
“Her aggression and her drive is still there,” Greenfield said. “She’s still going to fly in there to get boards, and she’s still going to go to the rack.”
Williams says she’s still aggressive, but doesn’t play recklessly.
“A lot of it is still instinctual, but I think about the game a lot more,” she said. “Not in a bad way, not like it stunts me, but I approach the game a lot smarter.”
Williams is more motivated to win then ever, she says, and returning at the right time.
Black Hills (16-4) hosts Hockinson (13-7) at 7 p.m. Friday in the first round of the 2A Southwest District tournament.
Williams will certainly be a central piece as the Wolves look to defend the district title they won a season ago.
“I’m glad to be back,” she said.