The gym was packed, people wedged into the bleachers and lined the walls.
There was no joy or cheer early as emotions were raw and heavy. Players from rival programs brought roses and hung banners with words of encouragement and fondness for Marisha Williams, the beloved girls volleyball coach for Monterey Trail High School whose team played visiting Grant in a Metropolitan Conference opener on Friday night with a lot to show.
Williams was found dead in her Del Paso Heights home on Tuesday night. She was 37.
She leaves behind three sons, including Jalen, a Monterey Trail graduate now a freshman at Butler University. The cause of death is still under investigation, though the Sacramento Coroner’s office confirmed that there were no signs of foul play or bodily trauma.
The Mustangs started the season 7-0 under Williams’ leadership, and her impact on the volleyball community in general merged everyone together in this setting. Monterey Trail principal Erik Swanson gave a moving pre-match talk at midcourt with the backdrop of Grant and Monterey Trail players standing and holding hands.
Swanson spoke eloquently and fought back tears, regaining strength when the crowd gave him an ovation. He said later of the outpouring of support, “This is what sports is all about. It brings out the best in all of us when there is so much bad stuff going on in the world. We lost a tremendous person and coach.”
Said Mustangs team captain Sarah Sin, “Marisha was our coach. She impacted everyone in her path. Our goal now is to stay positive, to honor her. She saw so much potential in us as a team, and she will always be in our hearts.”
Monterey Trail defeated Grant 3-0, the crowd celebrating every point.
Williams played four years of varsity volleyball and basketball at Johnson High School, graduating in 1999. Her mother, Angela Williams, was a longtime assistant coach at Johnson. She now lives in Indiana where she works for a youth foundation. She attended Friday’s match in a green and gold Mustangs polo shirt.
“I flew in this week from Indiana; the plane ride was so difficult,” Angela Williams said. “I see all these young people with pain, and it brings me more pain. My daughter would be so moved by this support. She’d be so thrilled. I was so proud of her, what she’d become, an amazing mother and coach and person.”
Her daughter was also the boys varsity volleyball coach for Cosumnes Oaks, which plays in the spring. Members of that team also attended the match. Monterey Trail’s interim coach is Erica Jones, who found Williams in her home, unresponsive.
There was a moment of silence for Williams before Monterey Trail’s football game against Cosumnes Oaks. Mustangs football coach T.J. Ewing said he grew to admire Williams, who was in her fourth season as volleyball coach.
The coaches talked about how to build programs, character and the value of playing multiple sports.
“It’s very hard to talk about,” Ewing said. “We all having a hard time with this. We’re blown away, unbelievable. Just so sudden and so sad. I had her son in a weight-lifting class. Just a great kid and family.”
Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson: firstname.lastname@example.org, @SacBee_JoeD, sacbee.com/high-school