COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Tech takes the court Saturday evening against Belmont for Senior Night, the final home game that the Golden Eagle seniors will play on court they have called home for the past few years.
Two seniors will be recognized -- T'Keyah Williams and Candace Parson. When looking at the roster, one might get confused, as both are 6-foot-2 forwards from Dillard High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. However, the two could not be any more different.
Parson, who chose Tech first, is more stoic, and calm, the laid back part of the pair. Williams is playful and dramatic, the bubbly one. And each has plenty of stories to prove that point.
"Back in middle school," Williams reminisced with a laugh. "I would always embarrass her yelling across campus, calling her sister, and she was always quiet and would just cover her face."
Parson's first memory of Williams shared a similar style.
"Williams was a goofball, just like she is now," Parson says. "I remember in middle school, she used to wear this thin headband right in the middle of her forehead. Well, what she didn't realize was when she took it off, she had a light line across her forehead from being tanned by the sun. So, she had to walk around with those headbands on almost a whole year."
However, their memories together haven't always been light-hearted.
Parson, who is a school grade older than Williams, came to TTU in 2010 looking to make an impact immediately, but following just six games in her first season, she suffered a season-ending knee injury. She would use a redshirt for the rest of the season.
The following season, with both 6-foot-2 girls raring to go, Parson looked back in form, averaging 7.3 points and 2.8 rebounds per game and tallying at least 10 points in three consecutive games, including a then career-high 13 points against Tennessee Wesleyan.
Until it happened again. Following just six games, a knee injury sidelined Parson for the rest of the season.Williams was always there for Parson during her tough times, but what she didn't know was how much she was going to need to rely on the knowledge and understanding that Parson had gained from those experiences.
On January 25, 2014, just over a year ago in a game at Austin Peay, Williams went down with the same injury that Parson had suffered twice. While running back to play defense, one wrong plant and her season ended with nine games left to play.
With any injury, especially to a college athlete, it can take an emotional toll; that's the time when you turn to your friends, especially the ones who have gone through the exact same experience, not just once, but twice.
"One thing I learned from two ACL injuries is when trying to recover, you can't let you mind play tricks on you," Parson said. "I simply told T'Keyah, it's going to seem like every day is a battle and tough to rebound from, but you have to stay persistent and head strong. As she moved closer and closer to being cleared to play, I told her don't let your mind trick you into thinking that you are still injured, you have to play as if nothing is wrong with you."
Williams heard the advice.
"I suffered that knee injury and honestly, having Candace helped me dramatically," Williams said. "When I found out she had my back, she was definitely the shoulder I cried on.
"Over the summer she was there to keep me motivated and to help me push myself in therapy and through the process. Candace has always had my back. That's why I consider her my sister, as well. Even with this season when I started feeling low because I wasn't really producing how I used to and I became frustrated, she lifted me up. I love her to death, like a family member, and I always looked up to her because she is so strong and is just an awesome person, inside and out."
Williams has played in 111 games in a Golden Eagle jersey including 62 starts. She has scored 624 points so far, while grabbing 535 rebounds despite a shortened junior season. She has also tallied eight career double-doubles, including two this season.
After being sidelined for those two seasons, Parson has since seen action in 97 games and started 63, including all 26 games this season. She has scored 701 points, grabbed 438 rebounds and swatted away 72 blocks, including 38 this season alone. She has also tallied seven double-doubles in her career, including two this season.
Each has learned many things through their years at Tech, and each couldn't be more grateful.
"From my experiences at Tech, I am going to take away that everything will not always go your way," Williams said. "And what doesn't kill you will only make you stronger, and today I am stronger for all of the things that have happened."
Parson's thoughts echoed a similar view.
"One thing I will take from Tech is to never give up. In life things are not always going to go your way. You cannot give up, that just means you have to push even harder. There is a quote that I always cling to, 'It's not what happens to you, it's how you respond.' "