With Yorktown comfortably ahead in game one of its Oct. 7 volleyball match against Robert E. Lee, Patriots outside hitter Elyse Bush approached the net at Yorktown for another kill opportunity.
The 5-foot-10 Bush, a first-team all-region selection last season, is known for her powerful stroke, putting down kills with ferocity. But this time, Bush’s attack was denied, sent back to the Yorktown side by the hands of Lee’s Crystal Ronan.
That’s 5-foot-4 Crystal Ronan.
"I was very surprised," Ronan said of her block after the match, accenting her answer with a chuckle. "I was like, ‘Oh my God, that freakin’ rocks.’"
The rally continued, Bush responded with a kill and Yorktown went on to win, 3-1 (25-6, 22-25, 25-16, 25-19). But Ronan’s block epitomized the junior’s do-it-all attitude she displays on the court.
Ronan has been the Lancers’ setter since her freshman year, distributing the ball and directing the offense. While her ability led to honorable mention all-district honors during her sophomore year, three other elements make the "Crystal Ronan Experience" enjoyable for fans.
Toughness is one, and it’s noticeable immediately. Ronan is constantly hustling and diving on the court — and she does so without wearing knee pads. Ronan said she doesn’t like to wear knee pads without long socks. An assistant coach said Ronan doesn’t need knee pads because she lands properly.
"I bang my knee all the time," Ronan said, "but I just keep going."
Another element is Ronan’s jump serve, a weapon of which former Lee head coach Rebecca Waters, who is now the head coach at West Potomac, still speaks highly. The velocity on Ronan’s serve has given opponents fits.
"She has an incredible jump serve," Waters said after the Lancers defeated the Wolverines. "She can carry the team on that alone."
Ronan said she has seen her serve intimidate opponents.
"There have been matches where we are down by five or six points and I get us back up, so it does benefit us a lot," Ronan said. "I have seen (opponents get intimidated), which pumps me up. I try to aim for that person."
Against Yorktown, Ronan finished with seven aces, including four in a row in game three, but struggled with consistency.
The third element is the encouragement of Ronan’s mother, Cheryl, from the bleachers. Cheryl, who said she attends all of Ronan’s matches, is capable of being a one-person cheering section. She is focused, offers advice audible from almost anywhere in the gym and will occasionally give Ronan a good-natured ribbing if she makes a mistake. She is also caring, bringing water to the Lancers during their match against Yorktown.
While Cheryl cheers and has fun in the stands, Ronan tries to energize her teammates and sometimes laughs off her mistakes on the court.
"I love to watch her play," said Cheryl, whose nicknames for Ronan include "sticks," in reference to her No. 11, and "shorty."
Cheryl said Ronan’s on-court hustle reflects how she grew up.
"She’s always been a tomboy," Cheryl said. "She’s always been very active — climbing, running, flipping, falling. … She’s got two older brothers, so she had to keep up."
Ronan also plays club volleyball for the Northern Virginia Volleyball Association. Off the court, she volunteers with the Fancy Cats Rescue Team, helping save homeless pets. She received the 2009 Youth Volunteer award from Volunteer Fairfax.