By Chris Parker
Willard was the runner-up to Ozark in the conference race last season. The Lady Tigers then saw their season end with a straight-set loss to Ozark in the Class 4 quarterfinals to finish 31-4-1 overall. They lose nine seniors from last year’s team, including all-state selections Kara Finkbiner and Kasey Brower.
“Our senior class of 2018 was the deepest talent pool I’ve had at Willard,” said Jamalee Hancock who is entering her 19th season as Willard’s head coach. “Winning districts the last four years was an incredible accomplishment that few classes achieve. Four of our nine seniors from last year had varsity roles all four years so they have left big shoes to fill. They set such a high standard in practice and in competition every day, and set a great standard for those in our program now.”
The Lady Tigers will just reload in 2018. Second-team all-conference junior Emily Terry returns after a 156-kill season last year. Terry terrorized other teams last year with her serve with a 79-ace season. No other Willard player managed more than 21.
“(Terry) will come in with the most varsity experience for us. She is a great six rotation player, and plays with a lot of confidence. She has the ability to attack the ball from anywhere on the net and hits with a lot of power. She’s one of the top servers in the conference as well,” Hancock said.
Seniors Daisie Cruse and Krystalynn Melton will provide senior leadership to a young Willard squad. Cruse, a Pittsburg State University commit, was third on the team in kills last year with 155, while leading in blocks with 25. Melton will play right side.
“(Cruse) will be a go to player for us this year. She had a great junior season for us, and has played great for us all summer. She has the ability to see the block and attack at a very high efficiency. She will play six rotations for us, and has outstanding ball control and communication,” Hancock said.
Junior Ashton Wildermuth will be running Willard’s 5-1 offense as the setter. She saw time in 12 varsity sets last year. Classmate Ashley Lasher will be a hitter to watch coming off a 56-kill season.
“Ashton is one of the most athletic setters to come through WHS,” Hancock said. “Her ability to make our hitters successful is incredible. She has done a great job all summer running our offense and she will emerge as one of the top setters in the state this year.”
Sophomores Maddy Bushnell and Payton Van Veen are expected to have a big impact this year. Both players have verbally committed to Missouri State.
“Our two sophomore MSU commits, Payton Van Veen and Maddy Bushnell are going to have a huge impact on our team this fall,” Hancock said. “Both stand over 6-feet (tall and) they bring the size to our team that we have been lacking. They play at a level beyond what you typically see out of sophomores. They both have a high reach and hit a very heavy ball and are great team players. We will rely on both of them heavily this fall.”
Classmate Taylor Crighton also will see time on the court as a defensive specialist along with freshman Kindall Smithson.