Every few seconds, a volleyball rocketed over the net with the pace of a meteor during an intense Northville High School varsity volleyball practice last week — kind of what you’d expect from a team ranked No. 2 in the state and loaded with sweet-swinging hitters.
The speed, consistency and accuracy of the action blew away this onlooker.
Just as impressive as the display of power, however, were the samples of elite finesse exhibited by Mustang junior assist specialist Ella Craggs, who turned defensive-specialists’ passes into feathery-soft sets that floated above the net for her kills-seeking peers to deposit on the gym floor just beyond the nylon.
Long before Craggs was nominated for the prestigious State Champs Sports Network’s Michigan Volleyball Player of the Year Award prior to this season — one of just five juniors among the 10 finalists (she won’t be eligible for Michigan’s Miss Volleyball Award until her senior year) — Northville Head Coach Sarah Lindstrom knew her two-year-starting setter was special.
Getting better every day
Craggs was instrumental in the Mustangs’ run to the 2022 Division 1 state championship match as a sophomore setter — and her skillset has elevated to loftier status in the 10 months since.
“Ella has always been an outstanding setter, but I’m not sure she fully understood her full potential until this season,” said Lindstrom.
“She has really tapped into a new gear this year. She realizes she is capable of doing things she hasn’t tried before.”
Lindstrom noted Craggs’ heightened ability and willingness to open up space for her hitters by pulling blockers to her thanks to the elevated threat she has created of directing the second ball over the net herself.
Craggs’ leadership voice is more pronounced this season, too, Lindstrom emphasized.
“She’s not the loudest player on our team in terms of pitch,” Lindstrom said. “But she’s found her comfort level when it comes to controlling the court with her voice like great setters do.
“Ella has not only earned the respect of her teammates, but our opponents as well.”
Craggs was raised in a sports-loving family.
Her mom, Erin, placyed volleyball at Central Michigan University, and her brother, Cooper, is a member of the Oakland University basketball team.
An outside hitter until middle school, Craggs said while she misses the glory that comes from smashing kills “a little bit”, she couldn’t be happier setting the table for her talented teammates.
“I learned pretty quickly that I fit the setter role best,” she said. “I wouldn’t change a thing, that’s for sure.”
The perfect set
The satisfaction Craggs feels when her soft touch leads to a pivotal point is off the charts.
“It feels great when everything clicks; when you and your attackers develop that perfect connection,” she said.
The chemistry didn’t develop overnight, Craggs added.
“I talk a lot with the hitters about what height they like the ball and their tempo,” she said. “Everybody is different. We spend a lot of time working together at practice so that we’re in synch during the games.”
Craggs has already committed to playing collegiate volleyball for Illinois State University, a Division 1 school located in Normal, Illinois.
“Once I visited Illinois State, I loved it,” she said. “Everything there is amazing — the team, the facilities, the academics. I knew that’s where I wanted to go pretty quickly.”
Craggs said she was beyond honored when she learned she had been nominated for the Player of the Year Award.
“There are so many amazing athletes on the list … and to be up for the award as a junior is super-cool,” she said.
“Honestly, I was a little surprised I was on the list, but I’m incredibly honored.”
The ultimate winner will be chosen based on six criteria: performance throughout the season, level of competition, big-game performance, team success, highly-recruited prospect and online voting.
To cast your vote for Craggs, click here.
Ed Wright can be reached at 734-664-4657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.