Willard has enjoyed a successful run the past couple seasons.
After an appearance in the district final two years ago, the 16-12 Lady Tigers returned to the championship last season only to fall to Republic.
Entering his fifth season with the program, head coach J.J. Adamson is pleased with its continued development.
“The 2018-19 season ended with a heartbreaking, four-point loss in the district final to Republic, an eventual Final Four participant,” Adamson said. “That being said, there are some really positive things to look forward to. I feel like our girls basketball program, as a whole, is in great shape.”
Six graduated seniors depart the program, including Liz Drennan, Josie Sanders, Nona Adamson, Hannah Bird, Jordan Lindsay and Kris Melton.
Drennan and Sanders will continue their respective basketball careers this season at Ozark Christian College and Evangel University.
Coach Adamson praised his inaugural class for its many accomplishments and impact on the program.
“Four years ago, our coaching staff took over this program and those six seniors came in as freshmen at the same time,” Adamson said. “From a recording only five wins in that first season to competing night in and night out and back-to-back district finals appearances — We have come a long way in four years.”
While replacing six seniors is no easy task, Willard has plenty of firepower returning this season.
A pair of versatile 6-footers are set to lead the Lady Tigers in forward Kaitlyn Burson (10.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.1 apg) and wing Megan Mahan (8.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.1 apg).
Adamson expects the pair to control the boards and stretch interior defenses with perimeter ability, as well.
“Megan and Kaitlyn have the size and ability to be excellent rebounders for us this year and their rebounding focus will be a key factor in determining how good we can be this season,” Adamson said.
Willard also returns a pair of juniors in Addy Adamson (2.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.5 apg) and Ariana Patillo (2.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg).
How quickly the two transition from supporting roles to focal points in the offense will also determine the Lady Tigers’ success, according to Coach Adamson.
“Both Addy and Ari will have to log major minutes for us this year at the guard slot,” Adamson said. “These two have the talent, athleticism and work ethic to step right in and perform at the highest level.
Willard also welcomes a quartet of newcomers to the varsity roster in senior Taylor Kuchta, junior Jada Holloman, junior Vanessa Wells and sophomore Brielle Adamson.
While Coach Adamson has high expectations for his team this season, its inexperience will definitely be a factor early on.
“The overall lack of varsity experience will be a challenge for this group,” Adamson said. “Once you get past Kaitlyn Burson and Megan Mahan, this year’s group is made up of young ladies who don’t have a ton of varsity experience. Now, while that will be challenging, I am excited to see the growth of this team.”
That development could be key to Willard finally capturing a district title that has eluded the school for much of the past forty years.
“Our program’s goal is to break through and win a district title,” Adamson said. “Unfortunately, Willard has been seeking a district title in girls basketball since the early 1980s. Winning a district title would allow this group to continue postseason play and see how far they could extend their season.”
For Willard to navigate and always-treacherous Central Ozark Conference and district schedule, Coach Adamson believes two key stats will play vital roles in the team’s development.
“Rebounding and turnovers will be a couple of statistical categories that will directly impact our team’s level of success,” Adamson said. “Our program thrives in the open floor, and the ability to rebound the basketball is key to our break. Turnovers are a double whammy. They eliminate scoring opportunities while providing our opponents with extra possessions.”
Finally, Adamson believes Willard’s leadership, chemistry and overall coachability will prove to be the team’s biggest assets as the season progresses.
“Our young ladies will have to learn quickly from any mistakes made and allow themselves to be coached,” Adamson said. “We feel like there is going to be an immense amount of growth amongst this year’s team. I think you will see a vastly different team at the end of the year compared to the beginning of the year.”
Willard opens its season at home Nov. 25 against Springfield Glendale.