St. Al hires Foley, Willis to lead softball and basketball teams

Published 10:36 am Thursday, February 9, 2023

When he needed to find new coaches for St. Aloysius’ softball and girls’ basketball teams, principal Buddy Strickland started working the phones.

One round of calls kept bringing the same recommendation. Another was an effort to convince a specific person to finally take the job.

Both candidates are now answering the call. The school announced Thursday that it has hired Mike Foley as its softball head coach, and K.K. Willis to lead the girls’ basketball program.

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Foley and Willis will replace Savannah Buck, who coached both teams and is leaving for a job at Adams County Christian School in Natchez. Willis will also take over Buck’s role as a physical education teacher beginning next week.

Foley and Willis are part of a revamped coaching lineup at St. Al. Walter Hallberg was hired in late January as the new boys’ basketball coach.

“I think we’ve improved where we are in the ability to coach kids, from where we’ve ever been here,” Strickland said.

Willis was a basketball star at Porter’s Chapel Academy in the early 2000s. She has stayed involved in the game giving individual lessons, but declined several offers from Strickland to coach St. Al’s girls’ team in the past few years because of other interests.

When the job came open again, Strickland took another run at her and finally got the answer he’d hoped for.

“A big part of what we do is faith-driven. We want somebody who can model that faith. That’s one of the big things that stood out with K.K. She spent a ton of time at Crawford Street as a youth director,” Strickland said. “We want somebody who’s committed to developing every girl to be the best version of themselves as a basketball player and a human being. I think that’s what we’ve got with her.”

Foley, meanwhile, has been coaching softball for about 12 years in Vicksburg and more than 30 overall. He has led several travel teams and is a past president of the Vicksburg Girls Softball Association.

When he reached out for recommendations, Strickland said, Foley’s name kept popping up.

“It came from people in Clinton. And Tallulah. In Brandon, Jackson … they said you’ve got the best person in your own community if you just reach out to him,” Strickland said. “We sat down and talked to him and he had a plan. Here’s what you’ve got to do to get better, step by step. His depth and knowledge of the game stood out.”

Foley believes his familiarity with Vicksburg’s softball scene will be a huge asset as he takes on the new challenge of running a high school team. In addition to having coached several current St. Al players over the years, he’s already well-versed in the smaller details of the job.

“When you spend as much time on a softball diamond and a league on Saturdays and Sundays, and running a league, and recruiting and developing and maintaining a team year after year, that’s one of the things you have to learn,” Foley said. “Parents have to like you and respect you, and players have to like you and respect you. If they do, then they’re going to play well. That’s the same thing that happens here.”

St. Al’s softball team appears to be on the rise. It won two games in four years before Buck took over in 2019, and then won nine and just missed the MAIS playoffs in 2022.

Foley said Buck left the program in a good place, and now it’s his job to push it to the next level.

“There’s a good core of sophomores and juniors there,” Foley said. “Savannah did a good job of bringing that program back up to where it is now. Now it’s my job to fix that one game and make us a player in the playoffs.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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