Willard’s Crawford coming up big for improved Heidelberg

Undersized post leads OAC in rebounds, blocks

PHOTO COURTESY OF HEIDELBERG UNIVERSITY/DOUG SAMPSON Heidelberg post player Maddy Crawford works in the paint against John Carroll’s Kahrin Spear earlier this season at Seiberling Gymnasium.

Jon Dawson said that even he is a little surprised at how well Maddy Crawford is playing at Heidelberg.

The Willard High School coach always believed in Crawford. He coached her and knows how tough she is.

He watched the standout player have two seasons interrupted by ACL tears and knee problems, only to come back and thrive.

“She missed an entire year of basketball, that’s hard physically to come back, but the mental part is hard on kids as well,” Dawson said. “For Maddy to do that, she’s a very tough kid and an awesome kid.”

On top of that, Dawson believed the 5-foot-9 post player would play college ball and be successful.

“I knew wherever Maddy decided to go, they were getting a steal,” he said. “I knew she’d be an asset to any team she went to.”

But Crawford has surpassed even her former coach’s expectations. The Heidelberg junior is leading the Ohio Athletic Conference in rebounding, averaging more than 11 per game. She has 192 on the season, 40 more than the next closest player. She’s also leading the league with 33 blocks, all while averaging 13 points a contest.

“I guess I didn’t expect her to do what she’s doing,” Dawson said. “I would have never expected her to lead the league in rebounds.”

But then again, her high school coach knows Crawford. And that means knowing anything is possible.

“I’d never write her off,” he said.

Crawford praised the work of the Willard coaching staff for preparing her for the college game. But she also said her high school injuries gave her an appreciation for the game, and a desire to succeed.

“It did take a long time (to recover), but it also made me, I think, a lot stronger,” Crawford said. “I don’t know if I would have been quite as inspired to play college basketball if I hadn’t gone through it, because I kind of feel like I missed out on a lot of those years of basketball, and am sort of making up for it now. It taught me a lot about persevering, and getting through what seems impossible.”

It’s an attitude that her college coach, Morgan Harrigan, not only helps her, but her teammates as well.

“Maddy just brings our consistency every single game, and every day in practice,” Harrigan said. “We know that she’s always gonna bring that work ethic and mentality and play hard.

“She’s demanding the ball more, and she practices with a relentless attitude every day,” she said. “She doesn’t take anything off. We stat everything in practice, and she’s consistently our leading rebounder, consistently our leading scorer, and consistently holding others accountable.”

When asked how Crawford is able to get so many boards at her size, Harrigan attributed it to attitude.

“I think it’s her desire to go up and get the ball,” she said. “She doesn’t necessarily do the best job of boxing out, but she just has that uncanny desire, and can read the ball coming off the rim very well. She doesn’t let anyone intimidate her.”

And that dates back to high school.

“It was really interesting to coach her with her physical make up and what she’s able to do, but Maddy was always one to get in the middle and mix it up, always able to hold her own,” Dawson said.

Crawford said what has raised her game in college is just getting more experience and confidence.

“Just kind of getting a feel for the girls I have to play against in the OAC, just showing that I can hold my own against them has really boosted my confidence,” she said, “and allowed me this year to kind of just let go and go for it.”

And not only is Crawford having a strong season, but Heidelberg has made major strides as well. After winning just four games a season ago, Heidelberg is 8-9, 4-6 in a log-jammed OAC.

“Last season was really, really rough, and it took a big toll on a lot of our bodies by the end,” Crawford said. “A lot of us had some pretty significant injuries, had us miss a couple of games. We’ve been lucky so far — I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think this year, we learned so much from last season and that experience and we know we don’t want to feel that way again. Everyone put in a lot of work over the summer, a lot of work in the offseason, because we know the work that we need to do to actually make waves in this conference.”

Crawford said the team has meshed, also, because of a degree of familiarity. Harrigan has done a strong job of recruiting from this area. Crawford is now teammates with players she went against, such as Norwalk graduates Jada and Jasmine Thomas. The Heidelberg roster also includes New Riegel’s Leah Bouillon, Old Fort’s Alli Adelsperger, Seneca East’s Kirsten Kochel, Carey’s Destiny Young and Fremont Ross’ Mattie Overmyer.

“It’s just kind of funny. A lot of the girls were either in the same league and played against each other, or knew each other from other sports or club sports,” Crawford said. “So it kind of can be a little strange, going from playing against those people to being their teammates. But also, you have a common background in the competition that you faced and the experiences that you’ve had that kind of makes you mesh a little better on the court.”

Harrigan said players from this area just have a certain something.

“I think Heidelberg is a very blue-collar school. A lot of these surrounding schools are blue collar.,” she said. “They’ve grown up on farms, they’ve grown up working hard, and they’ve had this work ethic installed in them from their parents, that nothing has just been given to them. They have to work for everything. So, I think that’s a big part of the demeanor they bring on the court.”

And Harrigan said a player like Crawford can not only impact the present, but the future of her program.

“She leads the conference in rebounds by (40), and she’s leading in blocks,” Harrigan said. “That’s really great in recruiting, too, because people who are undersized are, ‘Can I play at this level? Can I do that?,’ and I say, ‘Our post player is 5-9 and leads the conference in those categories, so absolutely you can.'”

But you have to be as tough and hard-working as Crawford.