Although the Howard Payne University Lady Jackets have many obstacles ahead of them this season, lack of leadership will not be one of them with the return of Anastasia Willis.
Having co-captained the Lady Jackets last year as a sophomore, Willis will once again assume a major leadership position with the program she has been with since signing her letter of intent in 2016 following a successful career Earl Warren High School in San Antonio.
“I felt great. Our coach always says before games, ‘you’ve played basketball before.’ I didn’t have any nerves, I just felt calm,” said Willis of her season-opening 12-point, 5 rebound performance in a 69-62 losing effort to Austin College Saturday. “It’s my junior season and I’ve been here before. It’s not my first game and, hopefully, not my last. I just felt confident and very confident in my teammates, what they were going to do, the looks we were going to get and let the game come to me.”
Willis said she hope to pick up where her team left off last spring, when her team finished the season 15-11 overall with an 11-6 American Southwest Conference record. Despite suffering a narrow loss Saturday, Willis was hopeful with what she saw and feels her team is capable of making a postseason run this year.
“We did a lot of good things. It was a battle throughout the whole game,” Willis said. “The way we executed on offense shows how hard we’ve been working. We have a lot of weapons, from guards to posts, just all over the place. We have great scorers throughout the whole team.”
Although hopeful, Willis said the team has much to improve on before it can reach they can reach the same level as the 2008 national championship team, but the foundation is in place. Willis said she learned a lot from graduate Presley McKethan, who also co-captained last year’s team, and hopes to gain more ground in pursuit of another national title by leading by example.
“It’s always in the back of my mind, I have to be better for them that way they can be better for us,” Willis said. “We just need to get into a flow where all of us are clicking. We already click pretty well, but it’s just fixing minor things and staying sharp. That is our focus is always being focused every game and every practice. Energy and effort are two big things we really focus on. Once we get into conference play everything should be smooth and I think it will be.”
Willis majors in athletic training with a minor in psychology. After her playing days are over at Howard Payne she intends to join the Air Force. She hopes she can put her athletic training to use while serving and believes her psychology minor will help her better assess a situation when working with an injured athlete or service member.
“When you’re an athlete and injured you think, will I ever be the same?” Willis said. “Having that minor will help them stay positive. It’s about the process. When you come back from an injury people always second-guess themselves and having that minor will help.”