By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
For Willard, the 2019-20 season proved to be a test of resolve for head coach J.J. Adamson.
Built around a pair of senior 6-footers in Kaitlyn Burson and Megan Mahan, Adamson’s game plan had to be reworked early on following a season-ending injury to Burson.
The Lady Tigers finished the season with an 18-9 record before falling to Republic in the district title game.
“It took awhile for our kids to get comfortable with the changes we had to make,” Adamson said. “That being said, I give our players and our coaches a lot of credit for being flexible and adaptive. We were able to shift gears and we hit our stride during the latter third of the season.”
Burson, Mahan and classmate Taylor Kuchta depart the program as graduates, leaving Adamson some significant roster holes to fill.
Mahan, an all-conference and all-district honoree, will continue her basketball career on scholarship at Johnson County Community College, while Burson is attending Southern Illinois on a track and field scholarship.
“The combined leadership of all three seniors will be sorely missed,” Adamson said. “They were excellent young ladies for all four years and always had the program’s best interests at heart. When Kaitlyn went down with an injury, most of the offensive load fell on Megan’s shoulders and she came through in a big way for our ball club.”
Graduation losses aside, Willard does return plenty of talent this season and will be led by an experienced group of upperclassmen. As he enters his sixth season at the helm, Adamson has plenty of reason for optimism.
Addalyn Adamson (Sr.) – 5’8″ – 7.2 ppg – 4.8 rpg – 3.1 apg – 2.2 spg
“Addy will do a little bit of everything for us,” Coach Adamson said. “She will have to score, rebound and defend at a high level this season. She is a great perimeter defender and will have to step into a larger leadership role.”
Jada Holloman (Sr.) – 5’6″ – 8.0 ppg – 3.3 rpg – 2.0 apg – 1.9 spg
“Jada is a fearless defender who will be asked to set the tone for us on that end of the court each and every night,” Coach Adamson said. “She is a blur in the open floor and we will also ask her to set the tempo for our team.”
Ariana Patillo (Sr.) – 5’9″ – 7.5 ppg – 3.3 rpg – 1.4 apg – 1.0 spg
“Ari can flat out shoot the basketball and she will be asked to be more aggressive in that area as a senior,” Coach Adamson said. “We will need her to space the floor to keep defenses honest.”
Vanessa Wells (Sr.) – 5’8″ – 1.2 ppg – 2.2 rpg – 1.0 apg – 1.0 spg
“Vanessa is someone you want on your team and she will be asked to take on an expanded role as a senior,” Coach Adamson said. “She is a blue collar kid who isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and go to work.”
Brielle Adamson (Jr.) – 5’8″ – 8.7 ppg – 2.2 rpg – 3.1 apg – 1.5 spg
“Brielle had a nice sophomore season and will be asked to expand her game this season,” Coach Adamson said. “She can shoot the three and is deceptive off of the dribble.
Madison Mills (Jr.) – 5’8″ – 1.2 ppg – 1.0 rpg – 1.0 apg – 1.0 spg
“Madi is a tenacious defender whose effort and energy is infectious,” Coach Adamson said. “Her confidence grew by leaps and bounds last season and she will be asked to take on a larger role this year.”
Addayln Adamson, Brielle Adamson and Patillo were all-district selections last season, while Holloman and Brielle Adamson were all-conference honorees.
In addition to its returning core, Willard will also feature a trio of varsity newcomers eager to compete for playing time this season in junior Morgan Hall and sophomores Carolina Crawford and Kailyn Washington.
Adamson believes his team’s chemistry, speed and depth will be significant factors this season, especially early on. Without a returning player on the roster over 5-foot-9, rebounding and interior play will be at a premium.
“One of the major challenges we will face this season is our lack of height,” Adamson said. “We will have to focus a tremendous amount of energy on our ability to rebound the basketball.
“We won’t start the season as the greatest defensive team or the greatest rebounding team and there may be some hard lessons learned, in terms of win and losses, to elevate our focus in these two areas; however, we have some intelligent kids who like to be coached and who like to win. I honestly believe that we will improve as the season progresses and be a formidable foe for whomever we play.”
With the uncertainties facing winter sports this season, Willard’s leadership could play pivotal roles in keeping the team safe and on the floor.
“There have been many times in year’s past where illnesses have had an effect on winter sports teams,” Adamson said. “It might have been the flu or strep throat or a cold. There is always an illness that seems to work its way through your team and you have to find ways to handle it.
“You just expect to be able to play basketball every winter and this year, that is in jeopardy. This pandemic has shown us that we can easily take things for granted and the privilege to come to the gym everyday during basketball season shouldn’t be taken lightly.”
Willard opens its season Nov. 23 at Glendale.