PLEASANT HILL – Last season the Pleasant Hill volleyball team started league play 2-2. They then rattled off 14-straight wins, finishing second in the Mountain Valley Conference and grabbing the No. 2 seed in the postseason.
That team had many contributors, but was led by sophomore stars Cheyenne Green and Claire Crawford. Now Green and Crawford are juniors, and the Billies performance last year put them on everyone’s radar coming into this season.
“People are now afraid of us instead of us being afraid of them. I think just being one of the upper dogs coming into this year is awesome,” Green said. “We want to win league. We want to beat Creswell and Sisters both times. It’s been building up to this, and I think we’re finally at the point where we’re a good team.”
Pleasant Hill was definitely on the map going into the postseason last year, earning a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed. Unfortunately the Billies faced a league opponent in No. 15 Siuslaw and fell in an epic five-setter.
“I think that we just had a bad game. We knew that we could beat them, because we had before. I think that makes it even more motivating,” Crawford said. “We want to get further now. Our goal is to get further in state because we know we can. I just think it’s a lot more motivating because we know we can do it.”
Pleasant Hill had beaten Siuslaw three times before that playoff matchup. But like Crawford said, they’re using it as fuel this season.
“There’s a lot of motivation in the sense that we didn’t meet our goals necessarily. We had realistic goals for ourselves, and we were a little bit shy of them,” said Pleasant Hill head coach Jessica Crawford, mother of Claire. “We don’t look back at last season as a disappointment whatsoever. That said, we also have incentive for this season. We learned a bit, and I think we’re ready to compete and show that we’ve matured, and that we’re ready to battle.”
Getting ready to go to battle with Green and Crawford leading the way makes things a little bit easier. Green has the second-most kills of any returning volleyball player in the state with 479 last season, while Crawford is one of 11 returning players with over 700 assists last year.
And that was all as sophomores. Now as juniors, the duo have even more experience together, making them tougher for opponents to deal with.
“It’s just the amount of time we have put in together, and we’ve bonded over that. She knows, if we’re out of system, ‘Oh, I have Cheyenne, and she’s probably going to get it over the net for me,’” Green said. “She knows how high to set me, the tempo, and the speed to set me. We don’t even necessarily have to communicate with our words.”
Even while being interviewed separately, their answers to the question of what makes them a great duo were the same.
“We just know each other. We’re really good friends also, and I think knowing more about your teammate makes it a lot easier to work together,” Crawford said. “We flow well because we know each other more. I know what to expect of her. Like if she’s in a certain place, I know where she’s gonna go next.”
Being on the same page is vital in any sport. But so are the skillsets they bring on the court with them.
“They’re a tough duo. They both work very hard, they’re both athletic, and they both are competitive. When you have those types of attributes together, and you’re able to get in rhythm, it allows them to be incredibly consistent,” Coach Crawford said.
While both players’ games complement each other, so too do their leadership styles.
“They lead in completely different ways, which is very interesting. And it tailors to their personality, which is great. Claire tends to lead more by example, while Cheyenne is outgoing, she’s going to create excitement,” Coach Crawford said. “It’s nice to see them blossoming, and then they’re also learning from each other how to lead in other ways, which is really great.”
Crawford and Green’s blossoming leadership stemmed from necessity last season. As sophomores the pair were team captains, all while trying to figure out how to maximize their individual play.
“They had the opportunity last year; they had some weight on them that they had to carry and be the go-to’s. And that was while they’re still growing, they had to be the leaders as they’re still learning how to be effective,” Coach Crawford said. “This year it seems more natural, you can tell that they’re proactively reaching out to their teammates. They’re planning the team events, and it’s just becoming more second nature.”
With their dynamic duo leading the way, there’s no ceiling for this Pleasant Hill team. But in order to reach their goals they’ll have to compete in one of the toughest leagues in the state. Sisters was the No. 1 seed in last year’s playoffs and returns the reigning Class 3A Player of the Year. Then there’s rival Creswell, and the same Siuslaw team that ended Pleasant Hill’s season.
None of that is scaring the Billies though.
“We have this competitiveness, and willingness to put our hearts and our energy into building each other up,” Green said. “We’re gonna try our absolute hardest and do what we always do, which is be scrappy and be excited on the court for others.”
Pleasant Hill lost only four seniors from last year’s team, giving this season some extra continuity, but also extra pressure.
“We have a similar team to what we had last year, so we already know each other really well,” Crawford said. “But I think it does affect our expectations a bit. I think more people actually look at us and are like, ‘Yeah, they can beat us,’ which means we have to play better.”
Below – Anatomy of a slam
Pleasant Hill setter Claire Crawford and hitter Cheyenne Green practice their signature play on a recent day at the school gym. PHOTOS BY BOB WILLIAMS / THE CHRONICLE