The beginnings and the endings.
Those are the moments Kennedy Croft says have meant the most during her past four years playing volleyball at Tumwater High School.
She happily remembers all of the relationships she’s built with current and former players at the program’s preseason unity camps.
And she can take pride in how those seasons ended — two Class 2A state titles her freshman and junior years, four consecutive state tournament appearances, four undefeated 2A Evergreen Conference titles and three Southwest District 4 titles.
Croft has collected so many accolades with the T-Birds the past four years, that Tumwater coach Tana Otton jokes it seems like her daughter has been playing there for 20 years. But, at the same time, it’s gone by in a flash.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Otton said. “It’s been the most awesome experience to watch her progression. It’s been an awesome journey with her.”
From her freshman year to her senior year, Croft, who signed to play at Gonzaga last week, has been one of the most dominating outside hitters in the South Sound. Her 1,193 career kills included 256 this season before a recurring injury sent her to the back row.
At libero, she only added to Tumwater’s record books, and leaves the program with single-season records for kills (404), digs (311) and aces (46).
Croft’s versatility, her consistency and her ability to lead in any situation are why she has been named The Olympian’s All-Area hihg school volleyball player of the year for the second time in her career.
“She really has all the tools you need to be a standout volleyball player,” said Centralia coach Neil Sharp, who has coached against Croft in 2A EvCo play the past four years.
“I’m sure there are part of her game that she wants to work on, but at the high school level, she’s as dominant on offense and defense as we’ve played against in my 11 years.”
Croft’s dominance on the court has made her one of the most visible players in Washington to opposing coaches. As a junior, she was selected as the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
She has made The Olympian’s All-Area volleyball team all four years in high school, and was named the 2A Evergreen Conference MVP each her final three seasons.
“She just has a huge presence,” teammate Ellie Bocksch said. “She is super competitive, but also really consistent. ... She’s a player you know you can count on.”
Not even the nagging stress fracture in her shin, that flared up late in the regular season and prevented her from jumping, could stop Croft from finding a way to contribute.
After missing three matches, she returned as Tumwater’s starting libero. She looked natural at it, Otton said, and has a read on the ball that can’t be matched.
“I’ve never been the type of player that only plays front row,” Croft said. “Defense is actually one of my favorite parts of the game, so it was easy for me to switch over to that. ... It’s just a different role, and I like it.”
Though it’s not quite the same as putting the ball away, Croft says, she still shined at libero in the final two weeks of her high school career. Between the district and state tournaments, she recorded 127 digs.
Bocksch said it gave the T-Birds confidence on the court just knowing Croft was out there. Croft spent much of the season building up younger players, and developing as a leader.
“I just think her all-around game has progressed,” Otton said. “This year, being the lone returning starter from last year’s team, put her in a huge leadership role. She kind of had to carry the team on her back for a while.
“When she came out, they started to fill in the pieces. So, when she came back in, it started to glue together a little bit more.”
Croft said it was encouraging to see the T-Birds come together against Ridgefield at the district tournament, and despite a loss, rally to make the state tournament. Bocksch, a sophomore, said she owes much of her progress in two years playing varsity to Croft.
“Kennedy is a winner,” Sharp said. “I view her from across the net. The way she treats her teammates, and opponents, she’s always very gracious when winning, knows what it takes to win, and knows what it takes to help her teammates achieve their goals.”
And Croft’s voice on the court, and how she encouraged teammates to communicate, was one of the biggest pieces of her senior season, Otton said.
“My mom makes it so all the players are committed every day at practice,” Croft said. “We have new goals every week that we set for ourselves, and we try to reach those goals. We’re always trying to grow and get better. We never settle.”
Croft is determined to continue her successful career in college. She committed to Gonzaga before her junior season began, and likes the direction the program is trending in.
“I really like the coaching staff, and the mindset of the whole program is so good,” Croft said. “I just know in the future, it’s going to keep growing. They want to be a winning program, and that’s what I want, so it seemed like the perfect fit.”
Croft said she is excited to move to Spokane and begin the next chapter, and Otton said she is committed to watching her daughter play as much as possible. Croft was originally recruited to the program as a libero, but has also impressed the program at outside hitter.
This much seems clear — wherever Croft is on the court at the next level, she figures to be just as dominant as she was during her impressive high school career.
“She doesn’t make mistakes on defense. And, on offense, she’s a smart player who knows where to place the ball,” Sharp said. “You can adjust the defense to take something away from her, but she can quickly recognize it and hurt you in another way.”