By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Willard is hitting a crucial point for the program entering this winter; this will be the first full graduating class that J.J. Adamson has had.
And, entering his fourth year, expectations have never been higher for the Lady Tigers with four starters and six letterwinners back in the fold from an 18-win team that finished as the Class 5 District 10 runner-up, led by Seniors Nona Adamson, Hannah Bird, Lizzie Drennan and Josie Sanders all started last season.
The district title loss has only fueled an experienced and talented group.
“Our kids were devastated after losing to Camdenton last season,” said Adamson. “Willard hasn’t won a district title in girls’ basketball since 1984 and our kids were on a mission to try and change that. Tip of the cap to Coach Caffey and her Lady Lakers, however. They had a fabulous season. But, it hurt our kids to watch them celebrate a district title. I think that fanned the flame within our kids to fight our way back to a district title game.”
That starting quartet, along with returning senior Jordan Lindsey and juniors Kaitlyn Burson and Megan Mahan will be among the favorites to make conference and district championship runs this winter after improving from five to 18 wins in the last two seasons.
“This group of seniors is pretty special to our coach staff,” said Adamson. “We took over the Lady Tiger program when they were incoming freshmen. Our coaching staff and this group have been through the ups and downs during the past three seasons. We have watched this program evolve from a five win season to knocking on the door of a district championship and we have won and lost, laughed and cried together.”
Now it’s time to get over the hump…
Senior wing Josie Sanders is the team’s returning leader in production, averaging 10.3 PPG for an extremely balanced offense. She earned All-Central Ozarks Conference status.
“Josie’s performance last season landed her on the all-conference team and, in the COC, that’s quite an honor,” said Adamson. “Josie has the chance to improve her productivity this season and those opportunities will come, not only from her individual improvement, but from the improvement of her teammates. Josie is a tough cover but doesn’t let her personal success overshadow what her responsibilities are within the framework of our team and that is one of her greatest attributes.”
Classmates Nona Adamson, Hannah Bird and Lizzie Drennan all offer unique skillsets, but they also share the ability to shoot the ball extremely well from 3-point range collectively, as well as vital varsity experience.
“Each of the young ladies mentioned above have their own individual talents that make them important to our team,” said Adamson. “Nona is offensive threat from deep and has a high basketball IQ. She has a great grasp of what we try to accomplish, both offensively and defensively. Hannah is an amazing on-ball defender and rebounder. She has the heart of a lion and leads by example. Liz has a motor that doesn’t quit and can change a game in multiple ways. She will hit a big shot, come up with a crucial steal or sacrifice her body drawing a charge or diving on the floor.”
Jordan Lindsey and juniors Kaitlyn Burson and Megan Mahan will also be counted on for increased production. All three are known as great defenders and players with great intangibles.
“Jordan is a great teammate who isn’t scared of hard work,” said Adamson. “Kaitlyn is a throwback who doesn’t mind contact and loves a challenge. Her ability to chase rebounds triggers our transition game. Megan is one of the most versatile players in the area. Her length can cause havoc for opposing offenses and she has the ability to score in multiple ways.”
Despite having seven returners, Adamson also believes he has a few difference makers to add to the mix this season in senior Krystalynn Melton, in addition to juniors Taylor Kuchta and Gabby Martinez.
“Krystalynn hasn’t played since her freshman year and we are happy to have her back on the basketball floor. She’s a great communicator and leader who still has a strong hold on what our program tries to accomplish on both ends of the floor. Taylor will be asked to provide an impact in the post. She has worked extremely hard this summer. Gabby will be asked to play some minutes at the guard position during this upcoming season.”
A quartet of underclassmen could also see meaningful minutes in sophomores Addy Adamson, Jada Holloman and Ariana Patillo, as well as freshman Brielle Adamson. All of whom add an immediate scoring threat.
“Addy had a great summer and is showing signs of being an all-around contributor,” said Coach Adamson. “She can handle the basketball, attacks the rim, rebounds it well and led our junior varsity team in deflections last season. Ariana is a sharpshooter who has the ability to get hot and change the complexion of a game. Jada can be a defensive force. She is quick, athletic and tough. When she operates at top speed, she can make it difficult on the opposition. Brielle is coming off an injury and if healthy, can be an asset. Along with an outside touch, she rebounds well from the guard spot and can really pass the basketball.”
Willard started last season 7-1, an indicator of just how good they are when things are clicking. The Lady Tigers lost five games by eight points or fewer, something that could be alleviated by so much returning experience.
The COC will again be a gauntlet and Adamson expects yet another royal rumble for the conference crown, but he fully expects this group – should they play the right way – to compete for conference and district championships.
“I know other conferences and leagues have talented players and coaches and their titles are closely contested year in and year out,” said Adamson. “With all due respect to those conferences and leagues, the COC, in my humble opinion, is the best top-to-bottom conference for girls’ basketball in the state of Missouri. The level of competition, the quality of players and coaches and the development of each program in the COC is second to none and with Joplin coming aboard, it only gets tougher. I expect this conference race to be no different than the past couple of years. I think it’ll come down to the wire with multiple teams competing for the top spot.
“We play at our best when we play for the good of the group. When these young ladies play for each other, all of those individual talents seem to multiply exponentially and we play with confidence and pace. When they play for each other, these young ladies play with a mentality to take care of one another and acknowledge the talents of our teammates. When we play for each other, these kids are fun to coach and fun to watch.”
Willard will open the 2018-19 season on Nov. 19 – on the road – against Glendale.