First-year Robinson head coach Kelsey Leech needed no introduction to several of Crawford’s players, as she’d coached them in club ball in the past. Veteran Crawford head coach Jeff Coker had faced off against Robinson plenty of times over the years, so he knew what to expect.
And, as expected, the two elite Central Texas volleyball programs waged a tooth-and-nail tussle.
Leech’s Rockettes rode the hot swinging hand of Super Centex standout Kaegan Walker on their way to a marathon 15-25, 25-21, 25-20, 21-25, 15-10 win over Class 2A’s top-ranked Lady Pirates on Friday at the Robinson Gym.
Leech said that such grueling gut checks are exactly what her team needs as district play approaches on Sept. 21.
“This is a great match for us in preparation for district, we’ve been playing some top-ranked teams and it really helps us get the caliber of (opponent) that we want for district,” said Leech, who formerly coached at Whitney. “It’s good that we have top-ranked teams that we’re playing against.”
Crawford (25-5) isn’t just the No. 1-ranked team in 2A, but the Lady Pirates are also the reigning state champions in that division, a perennial contender to book plenty of postseason bus trips. But Robinson’s tradition is nothing to sneeze at, either, as the Rockettes were in the Class 4A state semifinals as recently as 2015.
So, that the match produced superior scrambling defense and numerous extended volleys shouldn’t have surprised anyone sitting on either side of the gym.
“It was two playoff teams duking it out,” Crawford’s Coker said. “I thought we made some good plays, but there were certain moments where we needed a big play, and they were able to come up with it.”
The tip proved to be an effective weapon for Crawford throughout the match, but especially in the opening set. Anne Williams (15 kills, 15 digs) and Taylor Westerfeld (seven kills) both fooled the Robinson blockers several times by mixing in a changeup on their attacks rather than whistling the fastball.
Crawford led 14-11 midway through that set, but closed on a 11-4 surge, finalizing things when ferocious-hitting frosh Katie Warden tagged a kill on set point.
Robinson (11-9) communicated better in the second set, and the Rockettes tightened up their play. Brooke Ashcraft proved to be a potent weapon at the net, highlighted by a play where she redirected a Crawford block back over for a Robinson kill. The turning point came when Walker crushed a cross-court winner for a 21-17 lead following a wild, pulsating volley.
“I was telling the girls today, I’m confident in whoever steps foot on the court,” Leech said. “I one hundred percent believe in them, and I really do not care who steps on the court, I know we’re going to get the job done.”
Now tied at a set apiece, the teams cranked up the hustle-o-meter in the third, as each tried to gain the advantage. They were fit to be tied, as that third set featured 14 different deadlocks. The final tie of the set came at 19-19. Thereafter, Ashcraft caught Crawford off-balance on a well-timed dump, sparking a 6-1 Robinson run to close things out.
In the fourth, it was Crawford’s turn to answer. Several of Robinson’s spikes and serves sailed long of the end line, and the Lady Pirates busted out to a 17-9 lead. They later extended that lead to 23-15 before Robinson found a groove, rolling off six straight points to get within 23-21, including consecutive plays where setter Kim McNew self-dialed her own number for points.
But then Robinson was whistled for a lift, and Walker sailed a spike out of bounds, allowing Crawford to pick up the final two points to tie things up at two sets apiece.
Despite the back-and-forth nature of the match and the quality of her opponent, Robinson’s Leech said she felt good about her team’s chances entering the do-or-die fifth set.
“We played pretty consistently throughout. We got stuck in a few rotations, and we knew that,” Leech said. “We honestly were confident going into that fifth set, and we were positive that we were going to win that. We knew it would be a tough one, but we knew we’d be on top.”
The score was still tighter than a pair of overlaundered skinny jeans. Robinson clung to a 10-8 lead in the first-to-15 final sprint when Walker sailed in for a pair of momentum-seizing kills from her left-side hitter position. McNew followed with a topspin-heavy serve for an ace, and the Rockettes eventually pulled out the 15-10 triumph on a Delani Degner kill.
All five of Crawford’s losses this year have come against Class 4A playoff teams, including a pair of losses to Robinson, as Coker has again set up a stellar schedule in hopes of strengthening his team for the long run. And why not? It worked last year.
“I’m always going to play a challenging schedule,” Coker said. “We dialed back some of our tournaments this year, but we also only have 10 district games as opposed to 16 last year. So that allowed us to schedule some tough matches against the China Springs, the Robinsons, the Lorenas of the world. We’ve basically played a 4A schedule.”