Courtney Williams can't play basketball any more.
It hurts too much.
A standout senior sprinter for the Nerinx Hall track and field team, Williams signed her binding national letter of intent Wednesday to run at Clemson University. She's one of several area track standouts to sign. Parkway North senior and reigning Post-Dispatch All-Metro female track athlete of the year Alicia Burnett is headed to Texas A&M.
Signing to run track at college is a dream come true, but it cost Williams something she loved.
Williams arrived at Nerinx as a basketball player. She gave up track to focus on hoops in seventh and eighth grade. It was her first love when she was 6 years old. She saw varsity and junior varsity action as a freshman and had high aspirations.
All that changed when she returned to the track.
That spring she decided to give running another spin. When she showed up at preseason practice, assistant coach Marina White told Williams they'd been waiting on her. The track team and coaches saw the speed Williams displayed on the basketball court and knew if they could get her on the track good things would happen.
“We'll do something special,” White told Williams.
To prove the point, Williams ran a time trial then and there. No spikes. No track suit. Nothing special. Just go out and run.
It was the fastest time on the team.
Williams' first race as a Marker was as the anchor leg of the 800-meter relay. Williams said when she got the baton Nerinx was about 45 meters behind the leader.
Williams ate that up and then some. She crossed the finish line in first, although she didn't know it at the time.
“I didn't know we'd won,” she said with a laugh. “I was just going for second.”
Eventually the 5-foot-7 Williams realized her future would not be on the hardwood. It became clear she was blessed with speed few possess. She has since turned that gift into three state championships and a multitude of all-state performances. Williams is the reigning two-time Class 5 400-meter champion. As a sophomore she won the 100, too.
Williams' time of 54.87 seconds was the fastest 400 in Missouri this spring according to Milesplit. She ranked in the top-3 in Missouri for the 100 (11.69) and 200 (23.89) as well.
Her elite speed made her a high profile recruit. She and her family entertained 12 in-home visits from college coaches. Of those 12, the Williams family sat down and hashed out the five schools that would she would officially visit. Her final five were Arkansas, Arizona State, Baylor, Clemson and Texas Tech.
All five provided the balance of an outstanding education and the opportunity to compete at the highest level on the track.
“We looked for the little details that stood out,” Williams said.
She was really taken by how Clemson coach Mark Elliott approaches his vision for the student-athletes in his program.
“He said things that spoke to me,” Williams said.
What really drove home her feelings about Clemson was when the team included her in its huddle during her visit. Being pulled into the group just felt natural.
“It was a family atmosphere,” Williams said.
Williams is thrilled to have recruiting behind her and ready to focus her time and attention on other things.
“Just have fun and enjoy the rest of my senior year,” she said.
Her free time will not include basketball, however. She couldn't bring herself to return to the court even for a last hurrah her senior year.
“The only time I picked up a basketball was after track practice when I played HORSE against coach,” Williams said. “Of course I won.”