GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Valley State head coach Mike Williams arrived in Birmingham shortly before the tipoff of the Division II women’s Elite Eight basketball game. It was not what he had planned, but neither was anything else that happened in the days leading up to the game.

On Thursday at practice, Williams got a call. He found out his mother Helen was on her way to the hospital following a heart attack. After practice ended, Williams told his team.

“I just let them know this is still about them,” Williams said. “If they put themselves in the right position, they would still be able to succeed.”

In the following days, there was uncertainty for Williams, his family and team. Nobody knew if he would be able to make it to Birmingham in time for the game on Monday evening.

An undated courtesy photo of Helen Williams.
An undated courtesy photo of Helen Williams.

As Friday and Saturday passed with Williams with his mother in Antigo, Wisconsin, nothing was clear. When Sunday came, Williams and his family began to realize she may not live much longer.

In one of the hardest moments of life, Williams still believed as his mother died, she was giving him a sign.

“I think (passing away) was her way of telling me I needed to go down (to Birmingham),” Williams said, fighting back tears. “She was our biggest fan. She would always tell me the game was too close and I’d stress her out; we need to win by more.”

After quickly scheduling a flight, Williams arrived at the place he felt he was supposed to be, coaching his team for a chance at the Final Four.

His team responded with a 67-44 win over Missouri Western. Junior guard Emily Spitzley led the team with 20 points, while junior forward Hannah Kulas and freshman guards Hadley Miller and Ellie Droste each had 10 tallies.

Defensively, the Lakers didn’t allow a point in the first four minutes and held Missouri Western well below its season points per game average.

The Lakers put together another great effort on their 31-2 campaign. This one meant a little bit more not just to Williams, but also his team.

Williams said it was the calmest he had ever been on the sidelines.

“I guess I just felt like I knew there were greater things than this game going on,” Williams said. “Yes, this game is important, but there’s a lot more going on. I was just relaxed. Maybe it was her looking down, telling me we got this.”

The Lakers will take on Glenville State (33-1) at 7 p.m. Wednesday for a ticket to the NCAA Division II championship game.

While this team has aspirations to win a national title and hang a banner in Allendale, win or lose, Williams can be proud of them. And so can his mother, who he still believes will be watching, like she would on her computer for any other game.

“I know regardless of the result, she’s got a big smile on her face right now,” Williams said. “Just like she always has any time she watches the Lady Lakers play.”