Photos by Rick Nation
Though they’ll play a much more important match tonight with conference rival Greenwood visiting, the Bryant Lady Hornets just needed a win Monday night. And it would’ve been that much sweeter if it had come against the rival Benton Lady Panthers in Monday’s non-conference match.
Bryant had suffered setbacks in five consecutive regular-season Central Conference outings. Three of those were extremely close.
Benton, once again running roughshod through the 6A-South Conference by the way, kept the Lady Hornets’ frustrations going with another tight match, prevailing 25-21, 25-22, 26-24.
That came despite the fact that the Lady Hornets started exceptionally. In fact, in the first set, Bryant led from the outset by as much as seven points before Benton rallied to tie it 19-19 then surged to win. The Lady Panthers trailed only briefly in the final two games.
Allie Anderson led the Lady Hornets with 12 kills. Nikki Clay had six, Britney Sahlmann and Mercedes Dillard seven each, and Kendall Selig three.
Bryant had a good night serving. Sahlmann had three aces, Anderson and Whitney Brown two each with Selig and Dillard contributing one apiece.
But Benton, as a team, finished with 37 kills to Bryant’s 29.
At the start of the match, Anderson pounded back to back kills then Sahlmann came through with consecutive aces to make it 4-0. The Lady Panthers broke serve but a service error allowed Anderson to hammer another kill that made it 6-1.
The lead bounced back and forth from three to five but the Lady Hornets maintained the advantage. And when Benton had back-to-back hitting errors and Selig fired up her ace, the lead was 16-9 and the Lady Panthers called timeout.
After a Bryant hitting error, Anderson’s kill made it 17-10 but that’s when a series of errors began to help fuel Benton’s comeback with four kills interspersed.
In game two, kills by Clay and Anderson helped Bryant built a 3-1 edge but the Lady Panthers reeled off the next six points to gain the upper hand.
Trailing 3-7, the Lady Hornets got a lift when Dillard erupted with kills on three consecutive plays to whittle the margin to one. But Benton would not relinquish the lead, pushing back out to a 14-8 advantage.
Sparked by kills from Anderson and Clay, the Lady Hornets made another charge. And when Rylee Phillips scored off a block they were within 16-17. Bryant coach Lawrence Jefferson called a timeout after Benton had put together a push to lead 22-17.
When play resumed, Anderson’s kill and Brown’s ace closed the gap. Sahlmann added an ace and Bryant was within 22-24 but a Benton kill ended the set.
Benton couldn’t shake the Lady Hornets in the third game. After falling behind 1-5, the Lady Hornets rallied to tie at 6-6 with Dillard contributing an ace and Anderson another kill.
The Lady Panthers answered and it was nip-and-tuck the rest of the match. Benton would push out to a two or three point lead then Bryant would rally, eventually tying it again at 17 with the help of two kills by Sahlmann and an ace by Brown.
It was locked at 19, 21, 22 and 23. And the Lady Hornets made a bid to win the set when a hitting errors by Benton on back-to-back plays produced a 24-23 Bryant lead.
But a service error by the Lady Hornets knotted it back even and Benton scored the last two points to carry the day.