MUNCIE, IND - The week before Saturday’s 2A IHSAA State Finals was a busy one for the Muncie Burris Owls. Throughout practice, Burris head coach Jim Craig told his team to just hit the ball.
“You never know if you’re prepared for this,” Craig said. “...But [I told them] if you can pass, hit, and serve, we’ll be okay.”
Yet the Burris community and players knew what was at stake. This was the Owls’ 25th appearance at the state championship game and could be their 23rd title if they came out on top. The Owls chose to wear the phrase ‘23 in 23’ on the back of their warmup shirts.
“We kind of broke [the bracket down] this year,” senior Aubrey Miller said. “...Final eight teams, final four teams.”
Then Saturday morning arrived. Knowing that Craig was still searching for his first-ever state title, senior Aubrey Miller sent him a text message and told him he deserved it.
After the ball smacked the floor at 3:15 p.m., everything came true. The Owls defeated Brownstown Central 3-0 to win the championship.
“It feels amazing,” junior Lilly Howell said. “We hoped to get to this point with the 23 in 23’ on our back. It's such a blessing.”
After embracing each other and celebrating, the Owls ran to the student section and hugged anyone who stood in the front row. Smiles, tears, and cheers surrounded them. A few minutes later, the Owls were on the podium with their trophy and medals. The crowd’s cheers rang through Worthen Arena. Usually in red, Ball State’s arena was decked in blue.
“Our fans really showed up and it just felt amazing,” Miller said. “We thrive with the energy that the fans bring. Having them here was the biggest boost that you ever needed.”
Burris opened the first set with a run that put them up by 9-3. A few minutes later, the Braves rallied back to tie the match 15-15. After the Owls took a timeout, they went on to win the first set 25-23. Following that, they went on a run and swept the match (25-16, 25-17).
With the sweep, Burris didn’t drop a set in the entire tournament. To Miller, the success was due to the Owls’ previous seasons.
“[It took] a lot of determination, a lot of rebuilding, and just a lot of grit,” Miller said. “We took what we lost and what we gained and then put it into something on the court.”
Leading the way for Burris was Miller who recorded 16 kills. She was also awarded the mental attitude award following the match.
“[Miller] and [senior] Layla [Gonzales] started for me as two skinny little kids,” Craig said. “If they turned sideways, you couldn’t see them. They worked on their strength and mental commitment and were fearless. That was the key [for their success].”
Other performances included Howell with 13 kills and sophomore Mya Trammel with 12 kills. Yet in the end, the Owls’ first state title since 2010 was due to everyone contributing according to Craig.
“We got four kids in the back [court] that are totally committed to passing, which is what you got to have,” Craig said. “Most teams only have one good kid [like that].”
After coaching for over twenty years, Craig isn’t sure about his future.
“It's a nice group coming back,” Craig said. “But I've got to do a lot of evaluating. My wife has allowed me to do this [for so long].”
Whatever he decides to do in the future, Craig knows one thing.
“If you’re going to have these championships in Muncie, and Muncie is there, this is where the [community] needs to be,” he said.
With the stands full of his former players and Burris alumni, Craig believes that was the case today.
Contact Zach Carter with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on X@ZachCarter85