Years ago, in his first season as head volleyball coach at Crawford, Jeff Coker encountered a team in the playoffs that was better than his squad had faced all year. The Lady Pirates weren’t quite prepared for that level of competition, and lost.
After that night, Coker told himself, never again.
“And I just promised myself that the best team we play would never be in the last game of the year again,” Coker said.
So, now, Crawford challenges itself with an assortment of ambitious non-district matches, almost exclusively against higher-classification foes. Another one of those arrived on Tuesday night, and the Lady Pirates, ranked No. 2 in Class 2A, were up to the challenge against 4A China Spring, sweeping the Lady Cougars, 25-21, 25-8, 27-25, at the China Spring Gym.
Early in the match, China Spring essentially stretched an impenetrable tarp across the court. Crawford (24-6) couldn’t find a hole anywhere, as the Lady Cougars scrambled and scurried and produced a steady supply of digs.
China Spring hitters Haven Farney and Camryn Bevins helped spur their team to a 16-11 lead in the opening set. But then the match turned in a flash, thanks to the smiling service of Crawford sophomore Peyton Elmore.
Employing a mix of short, floating serves and longer, well-struck top-spinners, Elmore delivered three consecutive aces, sparking a run of nine straight points from Crawford, which rallied for a 20-16 lead.
“Serving well is always super important,” Coker said. “Actually, I kind of figured out that they were passing really well. So Peyton changed the whole momentum of the match with her ability to serve short. So we started trying to serve them short, and that kind of got them out of rhythm, a little bit frustrated. That’s when we went on that huge run.”
Crawford ended up finishing off a 25-21 win of that set when Anne Williams ricocheted a kill through the attempted block of the Lady Cougars’ front line.
Crawford’s momentum carried over into set No. 2, as Whitney Dean followed Elmore’s lead with her own slick service, helping the Lady Pirates jump out to a quick 7-0 lead. China Spring couldn’t get in a rhythm with its communication in that set and never recovered, as Crawford cruised, 25-8.
The Lady Pirates are well-heeled at every position on the court, but senior setter Haley Vaughn is the engine that propels Crawford’s machine. She covered the floor like a can of wax against China Spring, aiding the taller Morgan Claxton at the net to provide sturdy blocking, sometimes dropping in the back row to get low for a dig, and of course delivering spot-on passing throughout the match.
“We have great senior leadership from all of our seniors, but Haley is just something special,” Coker said. “She loves it, you can see that she loves it in everything she does. She loves her teammates, she’s a servant. I can’t say enough good things about her. She does everything for us, if it’s making a great dump to score, if it’s setting the right hitter, if it’s encouraging somebody. Just whatever she has to do to help us win, she does it.”
Vaughn finished with 35 assists and four blocks. Claxton powered a team-high 11 kills and added three blocks. Anne Williams nearly produced a double-double with nine kills and 12 digs, while fellow sophomore Ana Maddox contributed seven digs from the right side.
In the final set, Lindsey Felps gave China Spring a boost with some well-placed serves and spikes. The Lady Cougars played their best volleyball of the match, and took a 21-16 lead on an Alaina Wilson kill late in the match.
But Crawford refused to make it easy. The Lady Pirates scored 11 of the final 15 points, twice fighting off set point, and eventually charged ahead for the 27-25 win when Williams hammered a cross-court clincher that hit the floor just in front of the sideline.