'Back home': Bradley's new softball coach has ties to the Peoria area

Wes Huett
Journal Star
Sarah Willis is shown coaching the Bowling Green softball team. She was hired at the 11th coach in Bradley history on June 6, 2022.

PEORIA — Bradley has hired former Bowling Green coach Sarah Willis to lead its softball program.

Willis, 36, coached Bowling Green for seven seasons, compiling a 162-177 overall record at the northwest Ohio school. Willis is the 11th coach in Bradley history and replaces Amy Hayes, whose contract last month was not renewed.

The former Sarah Losleben is married to Chillicothe native Joe Willis, whom she met while in college at Texas Tech. The new coach says Joe was instrumental in helping her land the Bradley job. 

"I'm excited to make the move back home, not only for professional reasons, but for personal reasons, as well," Willis said. "There definitely is a lot of camaraderie in that area, and I've also seen that on the recruiting side of things."

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Wills in 2022 led Bowling Green to its first postseason appearance in 18 years, going 34-21 overall and 16-11 in the Mid-American Conference. The Falcons made the final nine of the National Invitational Softball Championship last month in Fort Collins, Colorado. Bowling Green went 74-54 over the last three seasons. 

One key player during that run was Washington High grad Madi McCoy, who landed in Ohio with help from her husband's ties to the Peoria area. Sarah also already has a recruiting relationship with area high schools and the Peoria Sluggers Fastpitch travel softball organization.

Willis said she wasn't looking to leave Bowling Green, but says Bradley reached out to her after the school heard good things from multiple people in the Peoria softball community.

"Everybody knows Joe. ... He comes from that small town, so every time we go to a grocery store back home, we're there an extra 30 minutes because someone knows who he is," Willis said. "That's the benefit of going home, and we're privileged to have the opportunity — and we're looking forward to it."

The couple — which has two daughters, Zoey, 5, and Payton, 3 — has talked to a real estate agent to list their Ohio home. She is setting up calls with players soon and said it is "time to get to work" in Peoria as Bradley's coach.

“It has been a dream to move back home and raise our family in such a wonderful community that has tremendous values," Willis said.

Sarah Willis

Willis, who played high school softball in Washington state, pitched at Texas Tech from 2005-08, and finished her career with 22 wins and 298 strikeouts in 113 appearances.

Willis graduated from Texas Tech in 2008 with her degree in psychology and she earned her master’s degree in sport and exercise science from the school in 2010. She met her husband at the school while he also was attaining his master's degree.

Willis worked as an assistant at Texas Tech before other college coaching stops at Princeton, Southeast Missouri State and Dayton — and a summer 2012 stint with the North Carolina Diamonds of the National Pro Fastpitch league.

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Bradley was 26-26 overall in 2022 under Hayes, taking fifth place in the Missouri Valley Conference (13-14) and losing in the quarterfinals of the league tournament. Hayes went 295-396, including 140-195 in the MVC over her 14 seasons at Bradley. She led the Braves to MVC titles and NCAA Tournament appearances in 2009 and 2014.

Wes Huett is Journal Star sports editor. Email him at whuett@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @WesHuett.