The Maplewood girls volleyball program has a legacy of winning state championships.
Growing up in the legacy of the Lady Tigers could be intimidating, but for this year’s team, it was fuel for its fires.
This season’s state championship roster featured seven girls that had a family member win a title with the Lady Tigers in previous years. Bailey Varndell, Sadie Thomas, McKenna Crawford, Savannah O’Hara, Madison O’Hara, Megan Woge and Elizabeth Hunter each had a sister play.
“We said this through the whole playoff stretch. Those girls sat in the stands, they helped manage the team, they were there and they wanted to be part of it,” Maplewood head coach Sheila Bancroft said. “We have some younger girls here today and they see what it’s all about. It makes them want to be a part of it just like these seniors wanted to be part of it.”
Most of the girls’ connections are to Maplewood’s 2017 state title team when the team won the Class 1A championship against Marian Catholic. This year’s senior class of Varndell, Thomas and Crawford each had a sister on the 2017 team.
Thomas led the offense during Saturday’s match with 19 kills while Varndell had 28 assists, 11 digs and nine aces. Crawford tallied 14 digs.
The effort was similar to the 2017 state title match. Sophie Varndell and Maggie Thomas were both all state players and recorded 15 and 10 kills, respectively, in the title match. Seeing that level of play helped prepare their little sisters to play at a high level.
“It raises you to want to achieve this,” Sadie Thomas said. “It was about seeing what work needs to be done to actually get in the position to win and being around it shows how much work and dedication it takes.”
Bailey Varndell said she wanted a state championship ever since watching her sister win hers in 2017 and Crawford said it was always on their minds.
“We’ve always had it in the back of our minds but it was a matter of bringing it to reality,” Crawford said about joining her sister, Madison, as a state champion.
Also with a connection to the 2017 team are Woge and Hunter. Woge’s sister, Madelyn, was a freshman on the team while Hunter’s sister, Maggie, was a junior.
“Being able to have the opportunity to watch my sister in the stands when they won states definitely impacted me and opened my eyes to seeing how when you work hard you can achieve amazing things,” Hunter said. “Her winning drove me to want to win even more because I knew what an accomplishment it was for her and I wanted to get that for myself.”
With Hunter’s state title, she became the third member of her family to win a gold medal. Her mother, Susan (Jones), was on Maplewood’s 1985 state championship team.
“I wouldn’t say I felt pressured but I definitely wanted to live up to them and keep it going in my family and not let any of them down,” Hunter said.
Saturday’s win against West Branch gave the Lady Tigers their sixth state championship in program history. The team’s first title came in 1985 under head coach Marty Bennett. Since Bancroft took over she’s added five titles of her own.
Bancroft’s resume is not lost on her players or the community — the roar of the crowd when she received her gold medal during the ceremony was evidence of that.
“Having Sheila as a head coach is amazing,” Varndell said. “She’s been to nine of these I think and she’s won five girls and one boys.”
Bancroft credits her players’ commitment to the game.
“I think any program, if you can have dedication and hard work, it will pay off,” Bancroft said.
The long-time Lady Tigers head coach also added the seniors helped bring the team closer together, which paid off during their playoff run.
“It’s a special group and it feels like they’ve been around forever, these older girls,” Bancroft said. “Just a very special and close knit group. The parents are amazing and the community around them is too.”