Kayleigh Crow is a friendly, polite, downright delightful girl to talk with. She’s well-spoken, has some interesting thoughts and a charming wit about her. So it comes as a bit of surprise when Crow reveals what sparks her passion for volleyball.
“I just love to hit things,” she said with a grin.
Yikes! And what exactly does that mean?
“It’s just the adrenaline,” she said. “Why do football players like to tackle people? I have no idea, but I’m assuming that has something to do with it. It just feels super nice. It’s very satisfying.”
That being the case, Crow is in a comfortable position as opposite hitter for the Hopewell Valley Central High varsity team. It is mainly a defensive role, in which she tries to prevent the opposition’s outside hitter from slamming one down for a point, which she does by blocking her scoring attempts.
In doing so, she hits the ball. Hard.
Needless to say, that’s a rush.
“I just love that,” she said. “ It’s so fun. When it hits your hand, it’s the most satisfying thing ever. And then everyone’s like ‘Wooooh!’”
It sounds like Crow was made for volleyball, and volleyball was made for Crow. She not only loves it, she’s good at it.
“She brings volleyball awareness and knowledge,” coach Dan Williams said. “She’s a hard worker, never gives up on a play. She’s team oriented and helps everyone else with a positive attitude. She’s just a great person to have on the team.”
Though Hopewell’s 7-12 start, Crow has eight aces, seven kills, four blocks and 25 digs.
“The outside hitter is usually one of a team’s stronger hitters, so she’s there to be a force at the net,” Williams said. “She also makes herself available in case a setter wants to set her up, she becomes an offensive player as well. So it’s just making sure she’s constantly aware of what’s happening on the court.”
Crow’s impact has led to a school record for wins in one season since the sport began in 2012. The addition of a middle school program three years ago has helped add incoming players with experience.
“We started our ninth grade program five years ago and it’s paying dividends,” Williams said. “The middle school coaches are doing a great job of keeping their interest piqued, so as they’re moving up through the program, it’s something they definitely want to do. They stick with it and they have success at it. It’s been building slow but steady.”
The other starters on this year’s squad are setter Corrinna Weyrich, middle blockers Jacquelene Wulf and Faith Dunham, outside hitters Haewon Han and Sofie Ragins, and freshman libero Michaela Kwak.
“Michaela has been playing since she was a sixth-grader and she’s very dedicated,” Crow said. “We also have some sophomores, where in the past we never had younger players because they didn’t have the skills. Now that we have underclassmen willing to step up, not only does it put pressure on the upperclassmen, but we’re like a true team now and we’re all building each other up. We have stronger players and they can grow with the varsity too.”
Crow is one of the team leaders along with captain Anastasia Sotos. Crow’s versatility allows her to also play the back row all the way around, which means she can sub in for a player when defense is necessary in the back. That ability comes from playing libero, a back line defender, for the JV team.
With all that shifting, Kayleigh has learned volleyball is not what she originally thought it was at age five.
“At summer camp we played a game called Newcome, and I actually thought that volleyball was Newcome for a few years,” Crow said. “It’s a game where you literally throw the ball over the net and you try not to drop it. It’s like a little kids game and I was like ‘I love volleyball!’ because I thought that’s what volleyball was.”
By fifth grade she came to understand otherwise.
“I just realized it was totally different,” Crow said. “Looking back as a person who isn’t five, you can probably say ‘Maybe that wasn’t the most fun thing ever.’ I’m not even sure if it was a real game. Maybe it was a game my camp made up because no one else has ever heard of it.”
Her true foray into volleyball began as a freshman, when she decided to try the sport along with several of her friends who had never played before. Kayleigh’s first season was, to say the least, an adventure.
“It was very confusing,” she said. “We have a rotation where you start in your spot and after the ball goes over the net you have to cross each other, get into your position. I didn’t even know there were positions, so I didn’t really understand the whole concept of positions.”
It was also a bit frightening going against experienced players.
“I was intimidated by the older girls who were on varsity because they could all hit super hard and straight down,” Crow said. “They could all pass very well, they could receive serves, which I was very intimidated by because it’s a ball going super-fast at you, and you’re just there, just you and the ball. I was really scared of that. A lot of people got concussions the first week and still get them.”
She endured, however, thanks to support by her fellow 9th-graders on the freshman team, as well as the coaches. After playing JV as a sophomore,
Crow moved to varsity last year and began to understand the nuances of her position.
“When I started paying opposite on varsity I had to adjust hitting at the net because my coach always had to tell me to get my arm up to hit down,” she said. “I always would hit it straight forward like a line drive because I was used to hitting from the back row so it was a little difficult to make the adjustment.
Once she made the technical correction, Crow began to work on the mental aspect.
“Anticipation has a lot to do with it, learning how to read hitters,” she said. “When you’re blocking; you have to know physics and geometry. Now, I don’t want to say ‘Oh you have to study this stuff,’ to do it. But you know when the hitter is angled one way, you have to go out a little to block the other way and then you can get the block down. The same thing with serve receives. When a server is turned a certain way, unless she has a crazy serve you can learn her patterns. You have to learn each server and read each server. It’s a lot of mental stuff.”
Crow is equipped for that. Her grade point average is 96.8 out of 100; she secretary for the HVCHS Future Business Leaders of America; and she started what she calls a “steminist” club to help girls become interested in careers such as engineering, science technology and math. Over 30 girls signed up in the first year.
Crow is already interested in such a career, as she is looking to study engineering hopes to attend Washington University in St. Louis or Johns Hopkins.
“Engineering is kind of a family thing,” she said. “Plus, I like math and science.”
Not to mention, there is no major for hitting things.