Jonette Williard could play any sport
Published 9:44 am Thursday, September 24, 2020
Second in a three-part series on new hall of famer Jonette Williard Poole.
When you look back at Jonette Williard Poole’s Davie High athletic career, it’s a good reminder of how different a time it was. There are not many Jonette Williards anymore. She didn’t drop a sport, or two, and “specialize.” She was everything at Davie from 1992-96, playing volleyball, basketball and softball.
Williard’s Davie career began as a freshman on the JV volleyball team. The 1992 JV was terrific. The War Eagles went 12-2 overall, 11-1 in the Central Piedmont Conference and tied West Forsyth for first place.
Williard made the varsity as a sophomore in 1993 and her impact was immediate. In a five-set win over Forbush, she pounded out 12 kills.
“She was just tremendous,” coach Sherrie Myers said then. “It was amazing how on Jonette was.”
The 1993 War Eagles were quite good, going 18-5 and 9-3 in the CPC. They finished in a second-place tie. But remember, fewer teams qualified for the state playoffs back then, and the CPC only had two berths. West Forsyth went 12-0, while Davie and Reynolds tied for second. The second berth was decided when Davie and Reynolds collided in the tournament semifinals. The Demons survived in five sets, meaning Davie missed the playoffs for the first time since entering the CPC eight years earlier.
“It was a heartbreaker,” Myers said. “To see the emotional fans and how the girls played with heart, and then to have our butts sitting at home during the playoffs … Well, it hurts.”
Reynolds drew the curtain on three senior careers: Tracy Robbins, Shannon Umberger and Tracie Sechrest. Sechrest and sophomore Williard were named to the all-conference team.
“Jonette played well every single match,” Myers said. “I can’t think of one she didn’t. She was a very consistent passer, hitter and server.”
The 1994 volleyball team grabbed the third and final playoff berth with an 8-4 mark.
In a CPC Tournament win over South Stokes, Williard sprained an ankle but didn’t tell anyone. She kept playing.
“She didn’t tell me until afterward,” Myers said. “But that’s the way Jonette is. She’s a competitor. She’ll give you everything.”
In the first round of the playoffs, visiting Davie looked – on paper – overmatched. Pinecrest was 19-1 and ranked fifth in the state. Davie was 12-8. But an undaunted Davie won the first two sets.
“You hear me talk about how strong our conference is,” Myers said. “We have two teams in the top 10 (W. Forsyth and Reynolds).”
The War Eagles were oh so close. They led 10-6 and 12-10 in the third set before losing 15-13. Serves by Katie Desch, Williard and Laura Moyer lifted Davie to a 10-3 lead in the fourth set, but Pinecrest roared back to win 15-12. Davie had a 6-4 lead in the fifth set before losing 15-9.
“I don’t mind losing, but when you give them a Christmas present in October, I can’t take that,” Myers said. “I just couldn’t believe we gave that game away.”
Reynolds marched to the state final, settling for runner-up after losing to Chapel Hill.
Two made all-conference for the 12-9 War Eagles – senior Maria Newsome and junior Moyer. Team awards went to Newsome (most valuable), Moyer (most improved) and Williard (coaches award).
The early to mid-’90s was one of the golden eras for Davie girls basketball, so Williard played JV as a freshman in 1992-93. And she played on an incredible team, surrounded by Amanda Sigmon, Keisha Wagner, Christina Cassidy, Moyer, Tami Ramsey, Brooke Suiter, Elizabeth Greene, Beth Wall, Kelly Robertson, Heather Johnson, Holly Snider and Janis Barney.
Davie dropped the opener to Statesville, but it would not lose again, going 19-1 and 14-0 in the CPC. Williard’s fingerprints were all over the gaudy record.
“She’s just got a great shot,” Myers said. “She’s very smart. And Jonette’s points don’t come from hogging the ball. She tries to give everyone an opportunity. The turnovers she makes are because she’s trying to pass the ball a lot.”
The 1993-94 War Eagles featured spectacular talent, but two sophomores (Williard and Ramsey) were good enough to crack the varsity roster.
“Jonette is an athlete,” coach Angie Slabach said. “She has those intangible qualities. She’s knowledgeable and a good shooter. She’s just got it.”
The War Eagles fulfilled expectations by going 22-6 (the most wins in 10 years) and 13-1 in the CPC. They swept the CPC titles and advanced to the regional for the first time in 15 years.
After playing a backup role as a sophomore, Williard was a starter for a 1994-95 team that everyone knew would be special. (This team was voted into the Davie Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2021.)
In a win over Reynolds, Williard had four points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals. Davie lost 64-59 to South Rowan in the Christmas tournament, but that proved to be the lone regular-season loss. In a rematch against South, Davie romped 71-45 behind Newsome (27 points, 14 rebounds), Williard (16 points) and Ramsey (15 points).
After dispatching West Forsyth twice in the regular season, the teams met for a third time in the CPC Tournament final at Mt. Tabor. The Titans appeared dead at 59-50 with three minutes left, but an improbable 12-1 run vaulted them to a 62-60 lead. Greene converted a driving layup for 64-64 at :25. Wall was fouled at :04. She nailed both free throws to give Davie a 66-64 win. Newsome (24 points), Greene (14 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals), Williard (11 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) played major roles. That’s correct – Williard flirted with a triple-double.
“It’s wonderful,” coach Laddin Lakey said. “The girls played their hearts out.”
After receiving a first-round bye in the playoffs, Davie rallied past Hoke County 60-56. Davie faced a 56-53 deficit before Wall saved the season by scoring the final seven points of the game.
In the Sectional 2 championship game, the War Eagles couldn’t do anything right in the first half and faced a 21-20 deficit to visiting Purnell Swett. They missed 20 of 30 field goals and all seven free throws in the opening half.
But Williard’s defense sparked a second-half tidal wave. She finished with four points, seven assists and five steals as Davie outscored Swett 39-20 in the second half to win 59-41. At 25-1, it was headed to the 4-A regional for the second year in a row.
Lakey marveled about Williard’s passing, defense and intangibles. “Sometimes she doesn’t get the spotlight (like Newsome, Ramsey, Wall and Greene),” he said. “But she is one of our keys on offense and defense. She really sees the floor well. She’s one of our leaders in assists and rebounds. I think she’s a key to making everything run.”
Newsome (21 points, 21 rebounds), Wagner (10 points) and Wall (12 points, five assists) helped lift Davie to 25-1.
“A lot of people told me this was a tough place to play – and it was,” Swett coach Thomas Humphrey said.
In the regional, Davie and North Forsyth arrived at Lenior-Rhyne College with 18- and 11-game winning streaks, respectively. The dream ended for the War Eagles, who made 23 turnovers and lost 44-39.
“Last year (when Davie beat the Vikings in the sectional) we focused so much on stopping Maria Newsome that we forgot about Andrea Gentry, Carrie Brown and Tami Ramsey,” North coach Mike Muse said. “This year our concentration was stopping the wing people. That was the key to the ballgame.”
Although Wagner fueled a 9-2 spurt that produced a 17-11 lead, Davie found itself behind 25-21 at the half. The deficit swelled to 38-25 at the end of the third.
Davie made a last-gasp run. Williard’s jumper was sandwiched by two Wall baskets as Davie climbed within 42-36 at 1:03. But that was as close as Davie got. Wall had a team-high 10 points.
North (25-5) was drubbed by Freedom in the regional final, 63-36. The War Eagles were not themselves in their final hour, but they soared to a No. 6 state ranking and finished 25-2, tying for the second-most wins in a season.
“I have disappointment for the girls tonight,” Lakey said. “This is not the goal we set, but we had a fantastic year and that’s something that can’t be taken away. When we get to be 70 years old, we can say we were 25-2.”
Newsome, the 6-3 center who averaged 15.5 points and 16 rebounds, was CPC Player of the Year for the second time. Wall (7.5 points, five assists) and Ramsey (12 points, 11 rebounds) made all-conference. Team awards were given to Newsome (MVP), Wagner (most improved) and Williard (coaches award).
Davie softball coach Darrell Steele knew Williard would be something special the moment she stepped on the field as a 1993 freshmen. She was the shortstop and a big stick from Day One.
When Davie and West Forsyth met in Clemmons on the final day of the regular season, the CPC title was on the line. Davie was the defending champ. West had two transfers from Davie in coach Denny Key’s lineup: pitcher Jaime Hunter and shortstop Angela Mayers. Both teams were 12-1. Davie won the first meeting, but it had stubbed its toe, 3-2, against Tabor.
The Titans won the showdown 5-3. Down by two, Gentry and Jamie Bailey opened the seventh inning with singles. The next three batters, though, were retired.
“I said when the season started that us and Davie would play on the final day for the championship, and that’s the way it was,” Key said.
In the first round of the playoffs at Rich Park, Davie lost 9-4 to a Providence squad that was anchored by nine senior starters. While the Panthers raised their record to 22-5, Davie’s outstanding season ended at 15-3.
“We had freshmen at pitcher, shortstop, right-center field and right field, along with two sophomores, in the lineup,” Steele said.
Williard, Casey Jenkins, Gentry and Jennifer Bell were selected as all-conference.
At the end of the regular season in 1994, sophomore Williard was hitting .467 and Sigmon .455.
In the first round of the CPC Tournament, Williard went 4 for 4 as Davie punished South Rowan 17-3. In the semifinals, No. 3 Davie knocked off No. 2 West Forsyth, 11-8, after losing twice to the Titans earlier in the season.
“I guess our girls finally realized that we are just as good as West Forsyth,” Steele said.
Barney smacked homers in the fourth and fifth. Williard went 3 for 4, while Davie got two hits from Jenny Stewart, Ramsey and Greene.
“We came to life,” Steele said. “The only green I like is money.”
But Davie had to win the CPC Tournament to make the playoffs, and it had no chance in the final, losing 17-3 to top-seeded North Davidson, which ran its winning streak to 20.
At 14-8, Davie missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade. “It just wasn’t our year,” Steele said.
In the 1995 CPC Tournament final on a cold and windy day in Welcome, No. 2 Davie and No. 1 North Davidson met again on the big stage. The unbeaten Black Knights were heavy favorites, so it wasn’t a shock when they exploded to an 8-0 lead.
Talk about getting off the deck, the War Eagles came all the way back, scoring three times in the sixth to tie it at 9. The sixth-inning rally started with Barney and Bell singles and freshman Leann Spillman reaching on an error. Krissi Pack’s bloop hit to left made it 9-7 and freshman Melinda Richie’s hit to left tied it.
North answered with a two-out run in the bottom of the sixth, but Davie refused to go quietly in the seventh. Williard led off with a hit. With two outs, Barney singled to left to keep Davie alive, and a throwing error put the tying run at third and the go-ahead run at second.
Davie fell just short of a huge upset, Spillman’s shallow fly in left field getting tracked down for the final out. North held on 10-9 to improve to 21-0.
“They didn’t quit,” Steele said of his team. “They showed me they wanted to give me 110 percent. They can hold their heads up.”
In the first round of the playoffs at Eden Morehead, Davie rolled 7-1. Williard set the tone with a first-inning homer. Greene homered later. Williard and Emily Hill rapped two hits each.
In the second round, Davie traveled to Pinecrest, the Southeastern Conference’s top seed. The War Eagles cranked out 21 hits and cruised 23-11. Greene went 5 for 5. Williard and Barney had three hits each. Wagner, Bell, Hill and Richie had two.
“I was a little skeptical of the long bus ride and whether we’d be ready,” Steele said. “But the girls were. They were cheering and clapping. They were pumped.”
The spirited run was stopped in the quarterfinals by Davie’s nemesis, North Davidson. There were no bright spots in an 18-4 loss. The Knights (25-0) reached the state semifinals for the fifth straight year. Amanda Hendrix had two of Davie’s three hits.
But the CPC was the only league in the state with two teams in the quarterfinals. Davie had a fine season at 16-9.
“We had a team of overachievers,” Steele said.
Seniors Sigmon, who led the team with six homers and hit .429, and Greene, who led the team in RBIs (22) and hits (34), were among five War Eagles who made all-CPC. Juniors Bell (.463, 18 RBIs), Barney (.388, two homers, 18 RBIs) and Williard were the others.
It was the third all-conference season for Bell and shortstop Williard, who hit .506 with 20 RBIs, eight triples and four homers. At the end of the 1994-95 school year, Williard was selected for the Spurgeon Goss Most Dedicated Award.
The stage was set for a monster senior year. “Jonette always plays hard and makes the big plays,” Steele said. “There’s no telling what she can do (as a senior).”
Next week: Part III – Williard’s senior year.