Unbeaten Ravens set lofty goals in volleyball

St. Thomas More would like to think it can be more competitive with some of the better programs in the state now. The Ravens will get their chance on Monday when they host Padua (8-1) at 5:30 p.m. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

St. Thomas More would like to think it can be more competitive with some of the better programs in the state now. The Ravens will get their chance on Monday when they host Padua (8-1) at 5:30 p.m. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

MAGNOLIA — Julie Murphy had every reason not to change anything about her St. Thomas More volleyball team.

Not only did the Ravens go 12-5 and reach the second round of the state tournament last fall, but they lost just one starter.

But that didn’t stop Murphy, St. Thomas More’s seventh-year coach, from switching players to different positions and using some new strategies on the court this season.

“It was a little scary,” admitted senior Sarah Pool. “But the good thing about our team is that everyone can almost play every position.

“Everyone was like, ‘Where am I going to play?’ We only have a small group of girls to choose from. (But) we kind of know what our roles are on the team now.”

And the results speak for themselves.

The Ravens are currently 9-0 with six matches left in the regular season. They’ve already beaten St. Elizabeth — a program they lost to last season — as well as topping Caesar Rodney for the second straight year.

Ultimately, St. Thomas More’s goal is to make the third round of the DIAA state tourney for the first time in program history.

With a veteran squad, Murphy had high expectations for this team.

“We’re better at defense this year and we’re better at finishing rallies,” said Murphy. “We’ve made a lot of improvements. … We’ve changed up our offense a lot. We’re getting offense from all kinds of different positions now. It’s more aggressive.

“I would say in the last few matches, everybody is moving better and feeling more comfortable with their roles. What makes these girls special is they’re super competitive and they just want to be on the court. So, whatever you tell them to do, they’re going to do it.”

“There’s a lot of adjustment, but I think everyone’s done great so far,” said senior setter Gillian Crawford, who’s from Hartly. “I think everyone was OK with it because they knew how it would benefit the team.”

Among the starters returning from last season are seniors Gillian Crawford (42 aces, 78 digs, 215 assists this season), Pool (108 kills, 46 aces, 70 digs), and outside hitter Sarah Reeves (44 aces, 50 digs) along with sophomores Jessica Crawford (59 kills, 24 aces, 71 digs) and Logan Hughes (50 aces, 32 kills). Sophomore Maddie Murrian also has starting experience.

Middle hitter Kourtnie Orth was the only one of the top seven players that the Ravens lost to graduation. Freshman Brianna Altidor has stepped in for her this season.

St. Thomas More would like to think it can be more competitive with some of the better programs in the state now.

The Ravens will get their chance on Monday when they host Padua (8-1) at 5:30 p.m. The Pandas downed St. Thomas More 3-0 (25-9, 25-7, 25-19) last season.

“We’ve learned how to take our failures — even though they’re not necessarily failures — and use them to better ourselves,” said Reeves, who’s from Rehoboth.

“We’re super excited,” said Pool, a Dover resident. “I think it will really test us — test our talent. If we play harder teams and we play well, then that shows that we have more talent than people expect.”

Of course, being from a small school like St. Thomas More, getting people to respect them is still important to the Ravens.

In last year’s state tournament, they beat Brandywine, 3-0, in the first round before falling to Wilmington Friends by a 3-0 margin in the second round. St. Thomas More’s players haven’t forgotten what that loss felt like.

“I was pretty upset,” said Reeves. “I don’t know, it was like we made it so far. We did really well in the first round and then, in the second round, we just kind of lost it. We thought we could do better.”

“I think we’ve just got to remember to keep our game up and not sit back and wait,” said Crawford. “We can’t just expect it to happen. We’ve got to keep aggressively going after things. … We try to push ourselves farther every single time.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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