A spectator would not have known that Lisa Willis was training her first crucial women's basketball match with T.C. Williams on Tuesday night against Oakton. Willis, wearing T.C. Williams sweats, scrolls through her iPhone as her team warms up before the match, and for most of the first quarter, she stays quiet on the sidelines, arms crossed.
"[Oakton’s] a great Virginia team? Said Willis after the Titans' 50-35 win, No. 12. "I do not come from Virginia, so I did not even know it."
Willis' calm does not fit the style of his team. When she took charge of the program in September, Willis implemented a triangular offense, which few high school teams use. The Titans (2-0) used a press all over the field against the Cougars (2-1).
Behind his new sets, Willis, without even being aware of it, made his first big test as Titan coach against Fred Priester of Oakton, one of the most accomplished coaches in the region.
"One thing I say to my daughters is that we do not care who we play," Willis said. "I guess it might be nice if I do not know the hype around them."
Former coach Kesha Walton turned T.C. Williams into a playoff run for 12 years, but left Alexandria school in October to take over from Bishop Ireton.
Willis played in the WNBA for four seasons and was then the head coach of Montreat College in North Carolina. Willis wanted to focus on mentoring children, so she left Montreat to run a basketball camp in Maryland called Mindful Development Hoops.
While Willis was reluctant to resume training, Williams sought leadership from the native of Long Beach, California. In addition to incorporating a complicated offense, Willis has brought a new culture. The team organizes weekly class meetings where players discuss improving their mindset. Willis said her ambition separated her as a player, so next week the team talks about developing the desire to succeed.
"Even some members of my coaching staff said," It could be too complicated, "Willis said," But I'm huge on the high bar. "
An example of Willis' growing confidence with his players appeared on Tuesday in the third quarter. Guard Geonna Stockton was upset after missing a layup and three pointers. Willis called him to the sideline and encouraged the eldest to continue shooting. Stockton then evacuated at the end of the quarter a three-bell warning bell pointer, which propelled the momentum towards the Titans.
As T.C. Williams seeks his fourth consecutive title in the Gunston District and is aiming for a Class 6 title in Virginia. Willis hopes that the bonds that unite his players are tightening.
"It's up to me to show up in players' lives in different ways," Willis said, "so they're like," Wow, the coach has his back. "