Jaleigh Crawford

Elwood's Jaleigh Crawford celebrates after scoring the first run of the game against Frankton in the Madison County Softball Tournament on April 10.

ELWOOD — Few freshman athletes made quite the first impression Elwood's Jaleigh Crawford did during the 2018-19 athletic calendar year.

It wasn't in volleyball, basketball or softball.

For Crawford, her impact was instead felt in all three programs during her first year with the Panthers.

Listed at 5-foot-11, she started the year with 120 kills, 31 service aces and was among the area leaders with 77 total blocks for the volleyball team. It was a combination of her height, athletic ability and work ethic that led to her initial success for the Panthers, according to volleyball coach Lindsay Durm.

"I think it's a mix of true athleticism. There are a lot of things that you just can't teach," Durm said. "Last year, she had only played one year (of volleyball) in eighth grade. I thought, 'Well, she's got a lot of potential, but I'm really going to have to polish her to maybe put her on varsity as a freshman.' But she came out to open gyms and was slamming the ball and was one of my best passers. That's just the true athleticism.

"But then, she also has a work ethic that is just unparalleled. She has not missed a single day of open gyms, our kids camp, servathon or a fundraiser. Anything, she is there."

Crawford would go on to enjoy success for the Elwood basketball and softball teams as well.

As the team's point guard on the hardwood, she averaged 8.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists. In the spring, she led the Panthers with a .507 batting average, five home runs, 26 RBI and three triples.

She expected to have some success last year but was surprised by certain aspects of her freshman campaign.

"It was, and it wasn't (a surprise)," Crawford said. "I wasn't expecting to come out and play point guard my first year."

That won't be a concern this year as Crawford has decided to take a break from basketball to focus on volleyball. She will still play softball in the spring and is leaving the door open to return to hoops later in her career. She believes her future lies in volleyball and also said it is her favorite sport to play.

"I'm going to try to do club volleyball because that's what I want to do in college," she said. "I feel like I have the love for the sport. I put all my effort into every sport, but I feel like I put extra effort into volleyball because I love it so much."

Durm is expecting an even bigger year from Crawford this season and has noticed a marked improvement in her during summer open gyms over last year at the same time. She said the game is starting to slow down for the sophomore.

"Definitely knowing the speed of the game (has improved) because coming from eighth grade to high school, to compare them it's laughable," Durm said. "Just watching her over the past year, she can read the court. Last year, she was focusing on passing the ball, watching for the set and hitting the ball. Now, she's looking at the other side, where can she tip or where can she hit."

Crawford seemed to improve in each sport through the year. She points to success in one sport feeding her confidence in the next.

"I think that was mainly what happened," Crawford said. "When I started at point guard, I was nervous. But once I got going, I was fine. Then, during softball, I wasn't sure what to do, but once we started playing, I got along with all the seniors. They all helped me, coach (JR Reese), everyone."

For Durm, having one of her best players on the court also being her hardest worker off the court helps serve as motivation for the rest of the team.

"I love that I can use her as an example," Durm said. "The younger girls really like her. Last year she had a good vibe with the older girls. There was no weirdness that you sometimes get with freshmen moving up. They respect her hard work, and when she's here, she's demanding that her teammates are here."

Don't expect that hard work to go away anytime soon. Even during breaks between seasons, Crawford is still focused on getting better.

"When I'm not in sports, I'm usually outside with a volleyball or a basketball," she said. "I also have a thing on my basketball goal where I can hit a softball. Outside of sports or school, it's the same stuff."

Contact Rob at rob.hunt@heraldbulletin.com or 640-4886.

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