GARLAND — Mission greatness? Mission accomplished.
If you had just wandered in from off the street and stumbled into the Curtis Culwell Center, you would have thought the Crawford volleyball team was the two-time defending state champion, not the other way around. The top-ranked Lady Pirates played with uncommon poise in dismantling Iola, 25-17, 25-18, 25-19, to win the Class 2A state volleyball championship on Thursday.
It’s the first title in program history for the Lady Pirates (46-7) and head coach Jeff Coker, and the first UIL title for a Central Texas school since Midway won the Class 4A championship in 2007.
“I thought we played really great,” Coker said. “Our whole theme for the year has been ‘Mission: Greatness’ and I think at this point the mission was accomplished. I just think they were so good tonight. They executed.”
The nattily-clad Coker opted for school colors for the state final, wearing a gold shirt and black tie. But he didn’t look any sharper than his team did, that’s for certain.
The Lady Pirates knew they couldn’t achieve their mission of greatness without operating out of Mission Control. They came out slamming from the start, taking control by winning 10 of the first 11 points of the match, as senior Morgan Claxton bashed three kills during that stretch.
Sometimes a coach can sense when his or her team is going to come out like a house ablaze. But Coker said he had a nervous energy when his team took the court against Iola (39-3), which had won the past two 2A titles, including a victory over Crawford in the state semis in 2015.
“I was a little worried, because Baylee (Griffith) actually pulled her quad this morning and I was nervous about that,” Coker said. “But she just gutted it up, like she has all year. We got off to such a great run by serving to the right spots. Maci (Westerfeld) and Whitney (Dean) gave us a huge lift right from the beginning. And I just thought we were really good, and we were able to keep that momentum rolling the whole match.”
Iola made its runs and tried to keep things interesting. The Lady Bulldogs fought back to within 18-16 when a Lady Pirate dig attempt sailed awry. Then Iola suffered a scary moment, as junior hitter Emily Bowman crumpled to the court with an apparent knee injury. An eerie hush fell over the normally raucous setting of the state tournament for a few minutes as trainers attended to Bowman before carrying her to the locker room.
When the action commenced again, Crawford re-ignited the lighter fluid. Everyone seemed to settle into her role – whether it was Dean (four aces) or Peyton Elmore (two) serving with vivacious zip, libero Camille Ward crouching low for 12 digs, or hitters like Griffith (six kills) or Niellee Plemons (eight kills) flying around making plays.
Sophomore Anne Williams, as has been the case throughout the season, looked more solid than the City of Crawford’s metal water tower. Williams led the team with 14 kills on .462 hitting and was one of three Crawford players with double-digit digs with 13. Claxton was almost equally efficient in her attacks, finishing with 11 kills in 23 swings for a .348 percentage.
But right in the middle of it all was senior setter Haley Vaughn. The soul of the team, Vaughn made pinpoint deliveries on her sets throughout the match, producing 36 assists. But the Angelo State signee also self-dialed at just the right moment to the tune of three kills, including two sneaky putaways late in the decisive third set.
Vaughn was named 2A tournament MVP for her efforts.
“Man, she’s just such a special kid,” Coker said. “She’s just done everything that you could ask of a kid to do. She’s been the true definition of a servant leader. I called her one time this summer, she figured out how to hit balls against a box, just so she could set off of a live pass. She was just working in the gym by herself.
“All that work has paid off for her. People tell her that she’s undersized (at 5-foot-6), but she doesn’t play undersized, she plays big.”
Asked how well the box made passes, Vaughn laughed and said, “You’ve got to make sure you actually hit the box. Hit the ball against it. I missed a lot. But when I did it, the box worked pretty well.”
Near the end, when Crawford moved ahead 20-15 in the third set, the Lady Pirates started percolating like popcorn kernels. They bounced up and down at the net before and after points, riding the rowdy wave of a large contingent of Pirate fans in attendance.
“I could definitely sense it, but we knew we had to stay in the moment, every single point,” Dean said. “I don’t know, I think at some point Coach Coker told us to take a deep breath. So I knew the game wasn’t over until it got to 25. So we had to stay in the moment. But it feels really great.”
Finally, on match point, Claxton put the finishing touches on the state championship with an emphatic flush at the net. The players on Crawford’s bench made a beeline to the court, where the team reveled in a glorious, victorious bear hug.
In the stands, the Crawford fans celebrated in kind. Afterward, Coker delivered a Vaughn-worthy assist to those loyal, lozenge-needing supporters.
“Our community has been so good for us this whole playoff run. Our student section has been the best one around,” Coker said. “It’s definitely a huge lift just to see your fans up there, but it’s a bigger lift when you hear them and they’re actually making an impact on the game.”