Sports Spectrum Magazine Summer 2021

Guided by Christ, Anna Wilson helps Stanford women to national championship

The Stanford Cardinal is back on the throne of women’s college basketball for the first time since 1992.

An unforgettable season came down to one possession, and Stanford got the stop it needed to hold on for a 54-53 victory over conference foe Arizona. The Cardinal’s triumph was thanks in no small part to Anna Wilson, who was the primary defender guarding Arizona star Aari McDonald on the final possession.

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The Pac-12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year, and sister of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, played 30 minutes despite getting in foul trouble, and finished with five points, four rebounds and three assists.

Trailing 21-20 midway through the second quarter, Stanford went on an 11-0 run that was capped off by a 3-pointer from Wilson, and the Cardinal never relinquished the lead. Three free throws from McDonald and two defensive stops in the final minute gave the Wildcats a chance to win the game as time expired, but their program’s first national championship appearance would end in defeat.

Wilson’s stout defense is nothing new. She guarded McDonald, a second-team All-American, much of the night, as Wilson does with most teams’ biggest offensive threat.

“Anna Wilson is a terrific defender,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said after the game. “I know Aari had 22 points, but she had to work very hard for each one of those points.”

Earlier in the week, VanDerveer spoke about Wilson with USA Today: “Anna has basically forced my hand. I don’t have any choice: If there’s someone that we need to lock down, she has to be out there,” the coach said.

Though Wilson is now a national champion, her journey has taught her that success is not found on a scoreboard. She’s found it in Christ. Before the game, Wilson — who has Colossians 3:23 listed in her Twitter bio — sent out a tweet praising Jesus:

She detailed some of her journey, and explained how her faith helps keep her centered, in a first-person story for ESPN last April.

“When things aren’t going my way and it’s tough on the court, I always whisper, ‘He must increase, I must decrease,'” Wilson wrote. “That’s John 3:30. I wrote that on my left wrist and ‘joy’ on the top of my left hand before every practice. For me, that means minimizing myself — to put others first, and Jesus first, is more important than anything else. My faith has helped me with my definition of success. It’s definitely not all about me.”

Her path included losing her dad when she was 12, battling through the effects of a concussion that limited her to 48 minutes of playing time as a freshman, and dealing with the reality of having a star quarterback as a sibling.

“Today, I have the faith of knowing that I’ve dealt with a lot of struggle,” Wilson added. “I’ve dealt with the loss of a parent. I’ve dealt with living in the shadow of a great athlete and people’s expectations. There are so many things outside of sports that I’ve been able to accomplish just because I’ve made it to today. I never gave up. And a lot of people can’t say that they’ve made it to today.”

She ended the ESPN article by reflecting on her time at Stanford and the many blessings her college experience provided.

“With all the ups and downs of being a student-athlete at the most competitive academic and athletic university, I’ve learned more than I could’ve imagined,” Wilson said. “I wouldn’t change a thing. I have friends and mentors for a lifetime. When I lost a dad, God provided an entire family that helped me become the woman I am today. I know my dad would be proud.”

If the national championship game ends up being the final game of Wilson’s college career, there is not a more fitting ending than her getting a stop on defense to win her team a national championship with her brother cheering from the stands.

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