Last year’s run to the quarterfinals for the Queen Creek volleyball program gave players confidence and showed they could contend with some of the best in the state.
They were young, yet talented. And all but four seniors returned ready to replicate that success and do more in the 2022 season. While the team already returned several key components to last year’s team, it also reloaded with talented freshmen.
Many of them are still learning who each other are off the court, as the season is still just a few weeks old. But what is starting to take shape is the support they all have for one another on the court, no matter what role they have on the team.
“Everybody in the group expects each other’s roles,” Queen Creek coach Eric Crismon said. “This is a group that has a goal and whatever role they have to do to fulfill that goal, everybody is down for it. I think that’s pretty unique.”
Crismon’s first season leading the Queen Creek volleyball program was 2012. Since then, she has seen the program move up from the 4A Conference and into the 6A, where they are now.
The Bulldogs are faced with a challenging region every year, frequently playing the likes of Corona del Sol, Desert Vista and Highland, some of the top teams in the conference. But this year, a new challenge presents itself with Gilbert making the move up from 5A where it was one of the top teams in 2021.
Crismon recognized the challenge that her team faces, especially when undersized compared to some of the other teams in the region.
“My kids know it’s going to be a grind,” Crismon said. “Pre-season is tough and fun, then we get into the drags of September and playing region (games), stuff like that. But they know all bets are off when it comes to the playoffs. They know they can make a run.”
Sophie Drollinger was one of the top contributors last year during the Bulldogs’ run to the quarterfinals. As a junior, she was third on the team with 165 kills and had 41 aces, the second-most on the team.
She was one of the upperclassmen that contributed the most alongside some of the seniors. She was also next in line to take over as one of the leaders, a role that she has come to enjoy this season.
Drollinger learned from her older sister, Jaden, who graduated in 2021. Jaden had to help navigate the program through the fall COVID season, where masks were required, games were canceled, and all teams played a condensed schedule. But that senior class, especially Jaden, helped the younger girls through it.
Their ability to lead by example both on and off the floor helped Drollinger to become the leader she is now. She helped lead the team through summer workouts and is confident in her team’s ability to be successful this year.
“Especially during the summer, we all worked so hard at practice every single week,” Drollinger said. “I think our communication, being supportive and being there for each other no matter what, that’s what is going to help us win.
“I think there’s always hardships. But we’re going to win some games.”
The impact Drollinger has made on the team doesn’t go unnoticed. In fact, she may not even realize how much she means to her teammates and the coaching staff.
Crismon credited her for doing whatever it takes for the team to be successful. Even if it meant playing more back line this season to open the door for freshman Madisyn Crnjac to start up front. Drollinger has never complained. In fact, Crnjac is one of the players she has taken under her wing.
She’s also made an impact on other players.
Blaykli Bobic, a junior BYU commit at outside hitter, brought Drollinger to tears when describing how she is as a senior leader. Bobic built a special relationship with Drollinger’s older sister, and it has since carried over. The two are frequently together, and their inseparable bond has started to spread to other girls on the team.
“(Drollinger) I can say is by far, if not one of my best friends, my best friend,” Bobic said. “Even when we are all frustrated, she’s so uplifting. It means a lot that I’ve had Sophie on this team with me.
“(As a group) we’re really close. We hang out off the court, too. We’re all just so close and we know everything about everyone, our weaknesses, and strengths. To all of us, winning is everything. We will all do whatever it takes to win.”
Queen Creek’s only two power-point losses this season have come against Perry and Corona del Sol.
Crismon said, while it was only one loss, it was disappointing to the team. They have a checklist of goals they want to accomplish this season. That list includes every opponent they have on their schedule. So far, Perry and Corona del Sol are the only ones they haven’t been able to cross off.
But they know there is plenty of season ahead. And their ultimate goal is to win a region championship and state title in November. Crismon said her team is still needing improvement for that to happen, but every girl is bought in.
“I think they are starting to see that it doesn’t really matter what we look like right now or what games we win right now,” Crismon said. “What matters is how we are in the end. I think we have to get a lot better.
“I think it’s going to take our upperclassmen stepping up and knowing when the game is on the line, they have to execute.”