WALLA WALLA — Tori Crawford had a problem. A good problem, but a problem none the less.
Hmmm ... which do I want to play, college basketball or college volleyball?
The ultra-talented, 6-foot-2 senior at Wa-Hi faced this difficult decision her sophomore year after playing volleyball since sixth grade and basketball since she was 5.
“It was a long battle mentally in my head,” Crawford said. “I did not know what I was going to choose. I knew I wanted to play something, just because I had been around sports my whole life.”
Eventually Crawford decided to focus on the sport she had fallen in love with — and the decision paid off, as Crawford recently committed to play volleyball on a full-ride scholarship to NCAA Division I Idaho.
“It was a huge weight off my shoulders when I decided I wanted to play volleyball and go to Idaho,” Crawford said.
Crawford is a force to be reckoned with on the court, be it of the volleyball or basketball variety. With her height and the athleticism and passion to back it up, Crawford played an integral role in Wa-Hi’s run to a district volleyball championship last season.
This season, as one of only two seniors on the roster, she’ll be counted on for more than just a physical presence at the net.
“Definitely a team leader,” first-year Wa-Hi volleyball coach Don Hepker said of Crawford. “Not only is she going to lead our team physically, but she’s been really supporting to all of the team, not only to the varsity, but also to all the freshmen that have come on.”
“She will be a captain,” said Hepker, who allows the players to choose one captain and selects another himself. “I’m going to guess the team will choose her, if they don’t, I will. I know she will be captain.”
And Hepker, who has coached for almost 30 years, including 10 as the head coach of NAIA Walla Walla University, said he would have loved to have her as a college coach.
“She’s just a great player,” Hepker said. “Offensively, she can put the ball away, defensively she’s got a strong block. She moves across the net really well, she is also playing back row for us.”
Although Crawford is taller than your average prep backrow player, Hepker said she possesses the athleticism to get down and make digs despite her height.
“I think she’s going to fit in really well (at Idaho), she’s really going to help that program,” Hepker said. “Oh, I would have loved to have had her (at WWU).”
Despite it being Hepker’s first year at Wa-Hi, he has already noted something anyone who has been around Wa-Hi volleyball in the last several years has likely noticed.
Crawford, well, she’s kind of a goofball.
“She’s incredibly positive,” Hepker said. “I haven’t seen anything negative from her. She loves to laugh and joke around, and on the court she doesn’t joke around but she has a good time.
“She’s serious and gets the job done, but she’s smiling the whole time.”
While Crawford’s 6-2 frame is more than ample for a post at the prep basketball level, her position of choice, she would make for an undersized collegiate post. And that played into her decision as well.
“I didn’t always know I was going to play college volleyball, I just knew that if I was going to succeed in college sports I was going to play volleyball,” Crawford said.
Colleges still wanted her, however, despite Crawford making it known that she had decided on volleyball.
“She’s got a lot of interest from basketball (coaches), and, honestly, we thought basketball would be the way she would go,” Crawford’s mother, Mary, said. “She played AAU basketball since she was 5 and two years ago she started playing AAU volleyball. For a while she was pretty conflicted, ‘Which way do I go, basketball player or volleyball player?’”
But when Tori did make a decision, Mary Crawford said she couldn’t have been more proud. Especially when the coach from Idaho, 12th-year coach Debbie Buchanan, came calling.
“You know honestly, from a mom’s point of view, the most amazing thing is what the coaches said,” Mary Crawford said. “(Buchanan) listed out these attributes, and she said, ‘I can’t build that sort of kid.’ She’s positive, explosive, a great leader, a hard worker — it was great.”
Crawford’s decision to play for Idaho led to another tough decision, however. Should she commit to playing winter volleyball, or should she stick with Wa-Hi’s basketball team for her senior season?
Crawford weighed skipping her senior season of hoops, but decided not to.
“I did consider not playing basketball if my college coach didn’t want me to,” Crawford said. “The girls I’ve been playing with I didn’t want to let down, though, and I think if I’d have decided not to play basketball, I would’ve really regretted that decision.