Gateway: Sports

Gig Harbor grad Willett making an impact for Cal Poly basketball as a freshman

Cal Poly women’s basketball hosted Eastern Washington on Field Trip Day Photo by Owen Main. 11/28/18
Cal Poly women’s basketball hosted Eastern Washington on Field Trip Day Photo by Owen Main. 11/28/18 Cal Poly Athletics

It didn’t take long for Gig Harbor High School grad Maddie Willett to make an impact with the Cal Poly women’s basketball team.

As a true freshman, Willett is averaging 6.6 points per game and has played in all 10 of the Mustangs’ games so far this season, starting six of them and averaging 19.4 minutes per game.

“I didn’t have any expectations of starting or playing a ton, but I really had hopes to be able to make a difference on the team and be able to help as much as I can,” Willett said. “Just knowing my role and our personnel, I know what we need and what shots we need to take.”

Maxwell, who was forced into something of a stretch-four role for the Tides during her time at Gig Harbor High for the undersized Tides, has returned back to her more natural role as a guard at Cal Poly.

“It’s been a learning experience, just for the different kinds of shots I’ll be taking that I usually didn’t take in high school,” Willett said. “But I’m used to playing guard in AAU. For Gig Harbor, I’d try to sneak out to the perimeter and get my shots up.”

Willett said one thing she’s had to learn is entry passing to post players, as she was generally on the receiving end for the Tides.

“I never really had a big, dominant post player to pass to,” Willett said. “We have really dominant post players (at Cal Poly). They’re all really good and really tall. So just knowing when they’re open, knowing when a double team is coming, all of that is a bit new to me.”

Willett said she has also focused on improving on defense.

“I’ve gotten a lot better at guarding players one-on-one,” she said. “I’m not the quickest lateral player, so just figuring out what way to force them, positioning of my feet to cut them off easier. Another big thing I’ve worked on is getting my hands out on the drive. They’re calling a lot more hand checks. So just focusing on that has been a huge key. That was definitely something my coaches taught me here.”

Cal Poly, facing tough non-conference schedule, has posted a 3-7 record. It’s been a bit disappointing but Willett said the team is making strides.

“We’re definitely building on what we have,” Willett said. “No one really knows about us. I’m just really excited to surprise people. I think we’re really growing as a team, really building that chemistry together. Come January, I think we’re going to shock everyone in our league. I think it’s fun to be the underdog. Our record isn’t the best yet but I think there’s just so many new players. We’re improving every game.”

Willett had the opportunity to play in front of some friends and family on Dec. 17, when Cal Poly visited Seattle University. The Mustangs also won the game, 60-50. Willett scored 12 points in the win.

“That was so awesome,” Willett said. “I really just want to thank everyone who came. Seeing all my friends and everyone I love, it was a special day to play college basketball in front of everyone who has supported me in high school and in life.”

Those in attendance included some of her old coaches and teammates from Gig Harbor’s state 2017-18 state championship team.

“It was just fun to see everyone again,” Willett said. “I haven’t seen all those girls in a long time. It was fun for me just to show them basketball is going to be fun. If you want to play college basketball, you can totally do it. I think I played pretty well. The team did really well.”

Willett said one of the toughest adjustments to college has been balancing athletics and academics. She is currently studying architectural engineering and mathematics.