BRIDGEWATER, Va. – It's the end of an era at Bridgewater College.
After spending parts of five decades on campus, Bridgewater head women's basketball coach Jean Willi has announced her retirement after 21 seasons at the helm of the Eagles program.
"You know, I just feel like it's time," Willi said of her decision to step away from the program after more than two decades as head coach. "I'm looking forward to having time to spend doing other things. I'm just ready."
Willi came to Bridgewater in 1977 and graduated from the College in 1980. She served as an assistant to legendary Eagles' head coach Laura Mapp for 11 seasons before taking the head coaching job prior to the 1996-97 season.
During her tenure as head coach, Willi was on the bench for 566 games and posted a career record of 375-191 for a .663 winning percentage.
"Jean took over a winning, well-respected program from Coach Mapp and continued that winning tradition," said Bridgewater's Director of Athletics Curt Kendall. "Her record speaks for itself - the wins, two tournament titles, several trips to the NCAA tournament and five ODAC Coach of the Year Awards. She has positively impacted many young women's lives and she will be missed by the game."
In her first season as head coach, Willi led the team to a 22-6 record and the College's first-ever berth in the NCAA Division III tournament. Willi was named ODAC Coach of the Year – the first of five such honors during her career.
The following season was even better as the Eagles posted a 24-5 mark (a program record for wins) and reached the Sweet 16 in their second trip to the NCAA tournament.
The Eagles reached the 20-win mark again during the 1998-99 season and won the ODAC tournament title for the first time since 1990 with a 75-61 overtime victory over Randolph-Macon College.
Bridgewater won the ODAC regular season title in 2000-01 and tied for the regular season crown in 2003-04 – each time reaching the 20-win plateau. Willi was ODAC Coach of the Year for the 2000-01 season.
Coach Willi received her third ODAC Coach of the Year honor following the 2003-04 season when the Eagles again reached the 20-win mark and tied for the conference regular season title.
The 2005-06 edition received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and tied the program record for victories with a 24-7 record. The Eagles advanced to the Sweet 16 with victories over Bates and Baruch before losing to Southern Maine – the nation's top-ranked team – on USM's home court. The conference voted Willi the Coach of the Year for the fourth time in her career.
Bridgewater's 2007-08 squad became the first team in ODAC history to win the conference tournament as the No. 6 seed. The Eagles defeated Eastern Mennonite, the No. 3 seed, in the quarterfinals 51-47 and then knocked off the No. 2 seed, the Randolph-Macon College Yellow Jackets, 70-64, in the semifinal round. In the title game, the Eagles slipped past Virginia Wesleyan, the tournament top seed, 57-56 to claim the ODAC title.
Willi was again named the ODAC Coach of the Year in 2011 after leading her squad to a 22-4 record for a .846 winning percentage – the highest winning percentage during her years as Eagles' head coach.
Willi's final squad finished the 2016-17 season with a 14-12 record.
During her tenure, Willi coached 15 All-ODAC first-team performers, three ODAC Player of the Year recipients and three ODAC Rookie of the Year Award winners. She also coached Cassidy Burkholder, one of 10 finalists for the prestigious 2016 Jostens Trophy which is awarded to Division III basketball's top student-athlete.
"I've been fortunate to work with a great staff. Coach (Cyndi) Justice has been with me the entire time and I certainly could not have done it without her by my side," said Willi "And, Coach (David) Wade has been with us for the past 14 years. I was also fortunate to coach some very talented players who obviously contributed to our program's success."
Willi also coached the Eagles' women's lacrosse team for more than a decade and was named the ODAC Coach of the Year in 1991.
While a student-athlete at Bridgewater, Willi was an All-State selection in basketball as she helped lead the Eagles to the 1980 Virginia Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women's (VAIAW) Division III championship. She still ranks among Bridgewater's top-15 rebounders, and her 264 rebounds during the 1979-80 season stands as the third-best total in school history. Willi also was a member of the Eagles' 1980 lacrosse squad that finished fourth nationally.
As a player, assistant coach and head coach, Willi participated in a total of 594 basketball victories at Bridgewater College.
Willi admits that retiring is a tough decision. "I'm going to miss the camaraderie within the conference and I'll miss the many friends I have made through coaching over the years. And, I'm going to miss the competition. I've always enjoyed that."
Willi also serves as an associate director of athletics and the senior women's athletics administrator at Bridgewater College. She will retire from those positions at the end of the current school year.
"It has been a pleasure to work as colleagues at the administrative level. Jean has been a tremendous asset to our athletic program and a great role model for our student-athletes and coaches." said Kendall. "She's certainly going to be missed in those areas."
A search for Coach Willi's successor as head basketball coach will begin immediately.