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Two-sport standout Peyton Williams is a quick study at Kansas State

Peyton Williams started 24 of 28 matches for Kansas State's volleyball team this past season and has started all 20 games so far this basketball season. Courtesy Kansas State Athletics

MANHATTAN, Kansas -- You might assume someone who has been playing Division I sports nonstop since August and is also a top-notch student in anthropology wouldn't have much time to read for fun.

But Peyton Williams currently has seven books going. The Kansas State volleyball and basketball standout was reading four of them while at home in Topeka, Kansas, during a brief holiday break. She left those there and took three new ones for the Wildcats' first post-break road trip, a four-hour bus ride to Oklahoma State.

"I'm a book-book person," Williams said, referring to her preference for the real thing, rather than the electronic version. "I like having lots of books and just the feeling of them. Technology is around us all the time. It just feels nice to put that [my phone] away and just read an actual book."

Yes, Williams is a throwback kind of kid, which is what it takes to be what's now a rarity in college: a two-sport athlete.

Even at the high school level, we're seeing that less and less. Those with college aspirations often choose to specialize in one sport, sometimes while still in junior high. Williams, who went to the Cair Paravel Latin School in Topeka, didn't want to do that.

When Williams went to coach Jeff Mittie's basketball camp in 2014, soon after he took the Kansas State job, he watched the 6-foot-4 rising prep junior and was impressed. He offered her a scholarship.

In the humblest way possible, Williams told him she already had a scholarship offer to Kansas State -- from volleyball coach Suzie Fritz.

"And I thought, 'Well, I guess better go talk to Suzie,'" Mittie recalled with a laugh.

Fritz has led the Wildcats' volleyball program since 2001 and also was taken with Williams' skills and personality. Because Williams wasn't playing club volleyball constantly like most all the athletes Fritz recruits, she was not quite as polished. But Fritz saw a lot of potential.

"We get athletes now who have played so much volleyball that from an IQ, a vision and a movement perspective, they are much further along," Fritz said. "But at the same time, the jumps that they make in year one or two in college aren't as significant because they've already had so many reps.

"We felt very differently about Peyton. We knew her volleyball experiences coming in were rather limited. Her progress here would be determined by how fast she could learn. We found that's where Peyton separates herself as an athlete: She is an exceptional learner. She is mindful, focused and attentive."

Playing not just two sports but also two whose seasons overlap requires all those qualities, plus physical stamina. Consider Williams' schedule in November: eight basketball games and six volleyball matches. Had the Wildcats made the NCAA tournament in volleyball, her schedule in that sport would have extended into December.

That brings up the other critical factor: coaches who are willing to work together.

"I met with Coach Mittie and said, 'Let's not be the school where she has to decide between sports. What would it look like for her to do both?'" Fritz said. "And he said, 'Yes, let's see how that goes.'"

It made recruiting Williams easier because she had been struggling about which sport to play. Her dad suggested she look into playing both, and when K-State offered the possibility, it was the perfect fit just about an hour from Topeka.

The Kansas State coaching staffs and athletic trainers combined on Project Peyton, coming up with a plan for her development. She would play only basketball her freshman year, giving her time to acclimate to college. She would play both sports this year, as a sophomore.

Her first hoops season, Williams started 23 games as a complementary post player behind then-senior Breanna Lewis, averaging 3.7 points and 3.4 rebounds. Williams got stronger and fitter over the summer and was ready for the double.

She traveled overseas on an exhibition trip with the basketball team in August, then started volleyball practice. The Wildcats lost three starters from their 2016 NCAA tournament team in volleyball, and Williams, a middle blocker, was needed.

She soon made an impact, recording seven kills in the second match of the season. She finished with 190 kills and 88 blocks as she started 24 of 28 matches. Her .306 hitting percentage was the best among Big 12 rookies, and she was named to the league's all-freshman team.

Now in her second season of basketball, Williams has started every game for the 11-9 Wildcats and is second in scoring (13.7 PPG) and rebounding (7.0). She's shooting a team-best 56 percent from the field, which includes seven 3-pointers.

"It was a big jump last year for her from high school, but we saw spurts of this even then," Mittie said. "But we also saw her lack of experience against quality opponents. Her footwork was very fundamentally sound, though. And she's very, very smart. She's worked really hard against our practice guys. It's allowed us to progress her quicker than we probably thought."

Mittie is cognizant of the physical wear and tear of being on the low block for Williams, especially considering she just played a season of volleyball. The Wildcats' 76-71 loss to Oklahoma on Jan. 17 was an example: Williams was 9-of-10 from the field in the first half and 1-of-7 in the second. Going against Sooners 6-foot-4 senior center Vionise Pierre-Louis was fatiguing.

Still, Williams finished with 23 points and eight rebounds in 37 minutes, and Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale, who has had a few two-sport athletes, was impressed.

"Physical endurance -- they have be tough enough and also lucky enough to not be plagued by chronic things that can wear on you," Coale said. "But the second part is they better be pretty bright. Because you miss a lot of instruction, and you have to learn a lot on the fly, and you have to be a pretty high-level competitor. There aren't a lot of people who can. But the ones who can should do it."

Fritz said Williams' ability to pick up things quickly is in keeping with her overall personality.

"I've been impressed with Peyton's varied interests," Fritz said. "She can write. Ahe loves to read. She loves poetry and theater. She's so much more than a multi-sport athlete. She is a multi-dimensional person."

At Cair Paravel, a private school that stresses a well-rounded education including fine arts, Williams indeed did virtually everything.

"I was in theater, madrigal, regular choir, played basketball and volleyball, tried my hand at golf, although I wasn't very good at that," Williams said.

Her favorite productions in school were "Beauty and the Beast" and "Little Mary Sunshine." She would have loved to play Belle in the first musical -- "The Beast gives her a whole library! When I was a kid, I wanted that so bad. I still want that" -- but was fine with playing The Wardrobe.

"You know, because I'm tall," she said with a smile. "In 'Little Mary Sunshine,' I was Madame Ernestine von Liebedich, who's also an opera singer. I had try to do a German accent. It was pretty funny."

She might not have time to do any theater productions at Kansas State, but she's staying plenty busy.

"We'll re-evaluate every year and see after this season how my body is," Williams said. "But I've enjoyed it so much. And my teammates on both teams have been really supportive and generous."

Mittie said, "I feel like Peyton's been able to compartmentalize both very well. And she's 4.0 in the classroom. She likes everything about being in school and all the experiences with it."