By Rob Patrick
CONWAY — Every time the Bryant Lady Hornets have played the Conway Lady Cats over the last[more] three seasons, it seems like they get closer and closer to knocking off the perennial Class 7A powerhouse only to have the match turn at some point short of victory.
It’s been frustrating. No Bryant team has been able to defeat a Conway team over at least the last 10 seasons. (Results before that are incomplete.)
So, when the two teams met at Buzz Bolding Arena on Tuesday night, it was a familiar story. With the match even at one game apiece, Bryant surged in game three, building as much as a six-point lead, ultimately 15-9. But Conway chipped away and finished out the game on an 8-1 run.
Deflated, the Lady Hornets struggled early in game four and, despite a bit of a run late, absorbed a 3-1 loss, 18-25, 25-21, 19-25, 19-25.
In a JV match, Conway prevailed 25-12, 25-11.
“I feel like that third game was kind of the turning point,” acknowledged head coach Beth Solomon. “We were up and let them come back. It definitely took the wind out of our sails.
“The good news about tonight, it was non-conference,” she noted. “It didn’t hurt us. We just don’t get those extra (rating) points. We can still be conference champs.”
The game was designated by the Arkansas Activities Association to count towards Bryant’s ratings points for post-season seeding in the 7A-West. As a member of the 7A/6A-South, however, the Lady Hornets remain 0-0. They’ll play their conference opener at Lake Hamilton on Thursday.
As a team Bryant was good on just 86 percent of its serves with just three aces. The Lady Hornets’ Brooke Howell was 17 of 17 with two of the aces with sophomore Abby Staton, using a jump serve, came through with a 12 for 12 performance. Allysa Anderson was 11 of 11 but otherwise the Lady Hornets suffered 11 serving errors.
“We missed way too many serves,” stated Solomon. “We’ve got to work on that. I thought we had worked on it and got it fixed for tonight then it was off again. We’ll keep working.
“Abby Staton stepped up for us tonight,” she added. “We moved her up since Brittan Hays got hurt. I thought she did a great job. Her jump serve was on which is a big deal for a sophomore coming into her first varsity game.”
Hays, a senior, was at the match on crutches with a knee injury.
Howell led the team with 13 kills. McKenzie Rice added 11, Anderson five and Courtney Davidson three. But the Lady Hornets had 26 hitting errors. They countered with four solo blocks and four blocking assists. McKenzie Rice had two stuffs and Davidson two assists and a stuff. Hannah Rice contributed 26 assists.
“Once our block turned on, we were good,” Solomon said. “Brooke Howell heated up. She was pretty fired up and ready to play. I thought she did great as far as her hitting and stuff went. Hannah did a great job setting for us tonight.
“Overall, other than that fourth game, they played well,” she added. “They played hard. They played together. They stepped it up. Last year, we played four with (Conway) but we didn’t play like this. So, I’m proud of how they played.”
The Lady Hornets may have played their best volleyball of the year so far in game two and much of game three. They never trailed in game two. It was 5-5 when they started to pull away. Davidson contributed a kill on a dink and Conway starting making errors. It was 9-5 when the Lady Cats called timeout to regroup. When play resumed, they broke serve but couldn’t hold due to a service error. Howell contributed two kills and served up an ace as part of the run that created the 14-7 lead.
The teams played evenly for a while and with McKenzie Rice had a kill, it was 16-11. That’s when Conway began to chip away. Davidson and Kaylon Wilson combined for a scoring block to help hold off the surge. Howell had a kill after Conway had cut the lead to 18-16 and McKenzie Rice scored on another dink after it got down to 21-19.
Both contributed kills during the final run including Howell’s game-point spike.
The Lady Hornets jumped out first in game three, taking advantage of a pair of hitting errors by Conway early. McKenzie Rice had a kill to make it 5-3 and, with Staton serving after a Davidson kill, the lead grew to 9-5 forcing another Conway timeout.
Later, a kill by McKenzie Rice and an ace by Howell produced Bryant’s first six-point edge, 12-6.
It was 13-9 when, after a long, tough volley, Anderson scored on a tip to break serve and McKenzie Rice followed with another kill to make it 15-9.
A hitting error cost Bryant control and, though, it took awhile, the Lady Cats tied it at 17. A service error gave the Lady Hornets the serve again but a Conway kill and an ace put the Lady Hornets behind and they never quite recovered.
The momentum carried over to game four with Conway pushing out to a 13-4 lead and never trailing. With the help of Conway errors, some forced by the Lady Hornets, as well as kills from Davidson and Anderson, cut the lead to five three times but couldn’t get closer.
The two squads could meet again in a tournament in Russellville on Sept. 15 and, of course, the Lady Hornets would like nothing better than another shot at the Lady Cats at the State tourney.
In the junior varsity contest on Tuesday, Rylee Phillips had four kills and Emily Henson two. Phillips and Erica Smith each contributed a solo block. Mercedes Dillard had six assists and was good on 30 of 31 sets. Henson pitched in with six digs and was 7 for 7 serving. Dillard was 6 for 6 with an ace.