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MERRILLVILLE — The last time that the Merrillville girls basketball team had saw single digits in the win column at the end of the season, Brittney Williams wasn't in middle school, and she wasn't even in elementary school.

It was 2001-02, when the Pirates went 8-14 with a first-round loss to Valparaiso in the postseason.

Williams, a senior forward and the team's leading scorer with 8.6 points per game, has been a part of the team's last three sectional titles, in some years with limited minutes.

She returned this season as the varsity player with the most experience, though it came as part of a junior class that waited in the wings last year. She was on the junior varsity for the 2015 and '16 sectional titles. She scored 18 points in the sectional against Kankakee Valley last season and had two in the title game against Portage.

She played in both regional games, with four points and five rebounds in the regional championship game against Northridge last February.

Now that her team is 5-17, what she's hoping to pass on is a legacy of inspiration.

"I've learned that you always keep fighting and always try to get better," Williams said. "Hard work beats talent and if you work hard, it's just going to fall your way.

"This year I just wanted to be a leader on and off the court and be inspiring to my teammates."

The senior is headed to IU Northwest next fall, marking a stretch of 13 straight seasons in which coach Amy Govert and her staff have sent at least one graduating senior play basketball at some level.

"In reality," Govert said, "that's what it's all about."

The Pirates, with five straight sectional titles, have the hardest strength of schedule in Sectional 2 as ranked by the Sagarin Ratings, and the second-hardest in the LaPorte Regional (second to Lake Central).

"We could have easily changed our schedule, but I'm not one of those coaches that cares about regular-season wins, I want my kids challenged," Govert said. "So, all these kids were thrown into the fire. We weren't playing teams where we could make (young player) mistakes and still win. You learn more in losses and we have learned a lot this year.

"I'm proud of this group, because it's not easy to follow what we've done the last few years. We've had five 20-plus win seasons in the last six years, coming into this year."

Through this season, Williams has learned how to be the kind of leader she looked up to. Playing in the post behind the likes of Ashiala Jackson, Victoria Gaines and Kierra Thompson, Williams said she saw players who succeeded with hard work.

Williams notched a double-double of 20 points with 13 rebounds against Portage this season, one of two double-doubles. She also had 25 points with 12 rebounds against Morton.

"I was playing for my team instead of myself," Williams said. "When I'm more focused on the whole team, I'm playing a lot better than when I'm just playing for myself."

"She was the person this season that we were going to turn to, because she's been through it," Govert said. "She was on the floor for most of the winning games last year. You can't say that for most of the rest of the group and we knew we needed her to take that experience and lead the young ones in the right direction."

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Sports Director

Hillary has covered prep, pro and college sports -- and even a Dixie Baseball World Series -- for newspapers north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line since 1995.