CRAWFORD — Blum owns one of the more vocal volleyball teams you’re liable to find. The Lady Bobcats regularly unleash a series of chants in their matches, like “Ooooo, that’s out!” whenever an opponent’s serve sails past the end line.
Crawford is quieter, though its play speaks for itself.
The seventh-ranked Lady Pirates clinched the program’s 10th straight district championship by silencing Blum, 25-18, 25-14, 25-18, on Tuesday night at the Crawford gym. It’s a remarkable model of consistency for Jeff Coker’s team — the veteran coach has been on the Lady Pirates’ sideline for the past 11 years — but this year’s group has shown wisdom beyond its years.
Crawford (31-7 overall, 12-0 in District 13-2A) has seven sophomores and freshmen who are seeing their first extensive varsity action this year.
“I think it’s a learning curve with this group,” Coker said. “One of the things last year is that we kind of got in a rhythm, and were really playing our best against some of the teams that weren’t necessarily as good. I think this year, being young, we’ve kind of had some mental lapses at times. So I keep trying to remind them that you can’t just turn a switch in the playoffs. I thought we played good tonight.”
Blum (23-15, 10-2) figured to provide more resistance than most of Crawford’s district foes, and the Lady Bobcats hung tough despite the sweep. In the opening set, they trailed only 13-10 after consecutive service aces from Hannah Shields.
But the ever-maturing Lady Pirates responded. Whitney Dean delivered a beautiful serve down the line for her own ace, sparking a 7-1 Crawford run. Blum struggled to set up many attacks at the net, settling for more back-line hits. Crawford ultimately seized the set following a Lady Bobcat net serve and an errant pass into the net on the final two points.
Coker said Blum presented some different looks than in the teams’ first meeting, a 3-0 Crawford win on Sept. 23 in Blum.
“We’re just trying to make adjustments as we go,” Coker said. “They actually played a different defense against us the first time. We talked about what we were going to do with that defense. We scored pretty early, hitting the right area, area six, and they adjusted and went to a new defense. We had to find something else that worked.”
What worked was the whisper rather than the screamer. Put it like this – Crawford routinely found holes in the middle of the Blum defense with soft tips over the blockers.
“I’m guessing they don’t practice the second defense as much, and we were able to score some on the tips there,” Coker said. “It was good for our kids to make an in-game adjustment like that.”
Despite falling into a two-set hole, Blum opened the third set with some lively legs, scoring the first four points behind some strong play at the net from junior Gentrye Munden. Crawford fought back to tie the score at 5, and then the Lady Pirates cranked it into overdrive, rattling off 11 straight points with sophomore libero Camille Ward at the service line.
The Lady Pirates cruised home with the win from there, picking up the decisive point on a kill from freshman Anne Williams.
Crawford setter Haley Vaughn distributed 33 assists, spreading the wealth far better than any politician. Baylee Griffith popped a team-high seven kills and two blocks, while Morgan Claxton and Caitlin Plemons hammered six kills apiece.
Vaughn also topped the team with three aces.
With another district title in hand, Crawford can now set its sights on the playoffs. Even with a somewhat new cast of characters, the Lady Pirates are aiming for a third trip to the state tournament in the past four years.
“Man, we’re super-young and not a whole lot experience,” Coker said. “It’s kind of what I’ve told people from the beginning, we’re going to be young and talented. If I’ve got to choose between talented and not talented, I’ll take talented.”
It was “Pink Out Night,” with both teams sporting pink warmup T-shirts and the Lady Pirates wearing pink accessories for cancer awareness.