By Rob Patrick
The Bryant Lady Hornets volleyball team has reached the Class 7A State Tournament for three[more] years in a row, a first for the program. One of the common denominators for those three success stories was the Lady Hornets setter, Hannah Rice.
A starter since her sophomore year, Rice was named all-conference her first year and was selected for the Class 7A All-State-Tournament team. As a junior, she was all-conference and all-State and, for her senior season, she was once again named all-State as well as being selected to play in the annual Arkansas High School Coaches Association All-Star game in Conway this summer.
Last fall, Rice led the conference champion Lady Hornets with 101 service aces, 706 assists with 66 kills of her own and a whopping 272 digs.
“Pretty powerful stats,” stated Lady Hornets head coach Beth Solomon.
With a resume like that, you’d figure Hannah Rice would be on her way to a college program to continue her career and her education. And you’d be right.
On Thursday, Rice officially signed to go to Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia on scholarship.
Earlier this year, Hannah’s twin sister, McKenzie Rice, signed to continue her softball career at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. The two were teammates all along the way on the volleyball team and played together for two years on the softball team. In fact, as a freshman Hannah clubbed a home run in the Class 7A State championship game.
But volleyball was her forte.
“Hannah’s been my right-hand girl since she first came on,” Solomon acknowledged. “She walked in as a sophomore and went straight to being our varsity setter. And I rely a lot on my setter. She and Kenzie both, having those girls together has been great.
“Hannah’s been a vital asset in making the Bryant volleyball program what it is today,” she continued. “Not only has Hannah been a role model for her teammates but she’s also worked with our future players to help them gain knowledge and develop the skills of the game. Whoever takes over her number 11 jersey has some big shoes to fill.”
Rice started playing volleyball in seventh grade and she became a setter soon after.
“Second year of club ball, when I was in eighth grade, my club coach told me that I had good hands and we needed a setter,” she recalled. “Ever since then I’ve been a setter.”
Her game took another leap that year and she began to believe she might be pretty good at it.
“In eighth grade, when I started working on my jump serve and I was getting a bunch of aces, it was really exciting,” she said. “Everybody was already intimidated by me and I’m just in eighth grade. I really liked it. I’ve been working on it ever since then.”
“Despite being one of the youngest players on the court, she immediately showed that both her leadership skills as well as her volleyball skills were well above what’s expected at the sophomore level,” Solomon said of her early experience with Rice.
“Having her for three years as our varsity setter has helped us as far as working her with the hitters and knowing which sets each hitter likes, being able to run all those specialty sets. It’s going to be hard to lose her,” she added.
“It’s been a pleasure watching Hannah grow and develop into the player she is today,” the coach continued. “I can honestly tell you I don’t think I’ve had a player come through that will work harder on the court to not let the ball touch the ground than Hannah Rice has. I can remember a lot of games where Hannah didn’t let a ball touch the ground. She would make just crazy plays. There was one game particularly I can remember where there was a girl on the floor that had dove for a ball and Hannah jumped over them to get to the ball, hurdled her and made the play.
“They count on me to get the second ball so that’s always fun,” Rice mentioned. “And in college I get to be a passer so it’s like a different realm for me, a totally different world. I’m going to set some too but I’ll be a passer. They’re using my speed.”
As for selecting SAU, she said, “It was really how I felt at the school. If I felt at home, that’s where I wanted to go. I’ve always wanted to be blue and yellow, so that helped. When I went to the school, it was just awesome. I felt at home. The girls were awesome and really nice and accepting.
“I wanted to go to A-State for a little bit but that didn’t work out,” she mentioned. “Really, after that, it was just SAU. It was like, ‘I want to go here. I hope the coach likes me because I’m probably going to go here.’ Then he liked me.
“It means a lot because I’ve worked really hard,” Rice explained. “I’ve wanted it so bad. It means everything that it’s actually happening.”