And, of course, "rebuilding year."
With only three seniors, observers can logically conclude the
Lady Railers aren't exactly a battle-tested bunch.
But those observers should watch their language around Dawn
The Lady Railer head coach isn't too keen on this idea of a
Not for her program, which has established itself as a Central
State Eight power over the decade and enters this season as the
reigning conference champ.
"I know everybody is probably looking at us like, 'Oh, they lost
all the seniors, they lost Rylie (Brackney).' But these girls are
working their butts off," said Crawford of expectations for this
season, which begins tonight at Normal Community. "They definitely
have something to prove. I think and I hope that they are pretty
much up for the challenge."
The challenge is no easy one. Last year's team relied heavily on
six graduated seniors, including top hitter Taylor Olden and
multiple-year starters Tayler Heidbreder and Emily Wilson. Also lost
from last season's squad is Brackney, who moved out of Lincoln prior
to her senior season after finishing second in kills on last year's
What's left are three seniors, six juniors, five sophomores and
one freshman -- none of whom played major roles last season. To the
naked eye, that would seem to be a rebuilding year.
Not to Crawford, though.
"A lot of people are saying it's a rebuilding year. But, we're
not really that low, because we have a lot of talent," said the
coach. "I think our defense and the confidence the girls have been
showing lately -- I mean, we're going to get beat, but I don't know
about it being a rebuilding year."
Crawford admits that there may be a learning curve for the
largely untested group. But, the talent is there, she insists.
She says she's actually seen a lot of growth already, starting
with summer workouts and scrimmages.
"Even from the beginning of the summer until now, it's a world of
difference," said Crawford. "All the girls have been getting
together a little bit, starting in July. And they're working
together, they're learning to talk to each other and get comfortable
on the court together. That's usually a battle. But, the girls seem
very receptive to everybody."
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Aside from the level of experience, Crawford said another
difference in this year's team will be the dynamic of the team's
Whereas in the last few seasons, the Lady Railers have relied
heavily at times on a single hitter, such as Olden last season, this
year's squad may feature a more varied attack.
Alora Goodey, Meagan Dzekunskas, Kortney Boward, Megan Jackson
and Michelle Paulus will all see action in the front row this
season, with setter Leah Anderson responsible for distributing the
ball to each of them.
Crawford singled out Goodey as having potential to be the leader
of the front-row group, but, regardless, the coach expects a more
balanced attack this season.
"I think Alora can be the next big hitter who can potentially be
a go-to girl," said Crawford. "But, it's been nice because in our
practices and scrimmages, the setters have really mixed it up and
found different hitters. If someone is on, on a given night, we'll
obviously stay with her. But, they're really working it around,
trying different things, trying different plays."
In the face of those who may believe her squad is a long shot for
another conference title, Crawford is relishing the chip that's on
her team's shoulder this season.
The Lady Railers hope to prove their doubters wrong
"It's going to be interesting," said Crawford. "It's going to be
fun, as long as we stay positive."
[By JUSTIN TIERNEY]