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Original Issue

Winning For Sam

In Williamsport, victory in the wake of a tragedy. Again

Six months have passed since the car crash that killed Brendon Colliflower and Samantha Kelly as they drove home on prom night (SI, Oct. 22, 2012). Their deaths shook the small town of Williamsport, Md., where the two were beloved, he an ace pitcher at Williamsport High and she the star of the school's volleyball team.

Playing in Brendon's memory, the baseball team completed an unlikely, emotional run to the state championship last spring, winning the title on a squeeze bunt in extra innings. Now, improbably, the volleyball team has followed suit.

On Monday, Nov. 19, the Wildcats defeated Calvert High of Prince Frederick to win the Class 2A state title. Playing in front of a raucous crowd, many of whom wore WIN FOR SAM T-shirts, the Wildcats won the match 25--22, 25--23, 25--22.

Outgoing and compassionate, Sam was the kind of girl who, as head volleyball coach Emily Crabtree puts it, "made you feel like you're worth something." The Wildcats' motto was We Play for SRK, and at the first home game the Williamsport gym was decorated with fluorescent butterflies bearing the inspirational maxims she used to tweet. Her mother came to every game, and dozens of little girls who'd looked up to her wore memorial T-shirts. "There wasn't a day at practice we didn't talk about her," says Crabtree.

When match point arrived last week, senior Stacey Christy walked back to the service line with tears already in her eyes. A moment later, after a Williamsport dig cleared the net and dropped to the other side, the Wildcats girls were screaming and running and piling on top of each other, just as the boys baseball team had back in May. It was the latest in an eerie succession of events that have made those in Williamsport feel there is some greater meaning in all this. And indeed, seeing the emotions of her team, Crabtree says she felt Sam's presence: "It was almost like that was her purpose, to make people look at life in a different way, to understand it's bigger than any one of us."