CONWAY — The Class 7A State Tournament opener between the Bryant Lady Hornets and the Rogers Lady Mounties appeared to be headed to a fifth and deciding set to 15. The teams had traded games with Bryant claiming the first, 25-20; Rogers getting the second, 25-22; and Bryant prevailing 25-18 in the third.
The pattern seemed to be holding as, in the fourth set, Rogers surged to a 16-9 lead behind a flurry of kills by senior Samantha Lassister, who led her team with 16 in the match.
But a thunderous hit by Bryant senior Allie Anderson forced a sideout and started a rally. Alex Dillard and Britney Sahlmann combined on a block as Shayla McKissock took over at the service line. Anderson, on her way to 30 kills, came up with another and suddenly, the Lady Hornets were within 12-16 and Rogers wanted a timeout.
A hitting error hurt the Mounties when play resumed but Bryant was cited for a double hit and it was 13-17. Anderson scored off block and the momentum swing resumed.
With Anderson serving, Rogers suffered a hitting error then a double hit as Bryant closed to within 16-17. And another timeout didn’t stem the tide. By the time Anderson’s turn at the service line was over, Bryant had surged to a 20-17 lead.
Rogers broke serve and, with Anderson rotating to the sideline, gained new hope.
But two kills by sophomore Raven Loveless along with a block by Kendall Selig and another by Sahlmann closed out the victory for Bryant, 25-20.
The Lady Hornets advance to a second-round match against top-ranked Fayetteville Wednesday evening at 6, in a rematch of a first-round contest in 2014 in which the Lady Hornets provided the Lady Bulldogs with more than they expected before Fayetteville prevailed.
Tuesday’s win over Rogers was the first State tournament victory for a Bryant team since 2010 when the Lady Hornets got past Rogers Heritage in straight sets in the opening round. No Bryant team has ever gotten past the second round.
“It was an okay night,” said Lady Hornets coach Beth Solomon regarding the win over Rogers. “That was by far not our best game. We let down definitely in game two, just kind of stopped. We’ve been struggling with that all year, as far as game two being our weak game where we’re not playing quite as well as we do starting off then coming back and finishing.
“We almost let it go in game four as well but luckily the girls finally snapped back into it and took care of some stuff,” she acknowledged. “I let them do it. It was one of those things where I was going, ‘Do I call timeout? Do I not call timeout?’ At some point, you say, ‘You know, we’ve been playing for however-many months. They know how to get themselves out of it.’
“So I let them and they did. They pulled together and started digging back out. That’s just what it kind of took, them going, ‘You know what? We don’t want to be done. We’re going to start playing.’ It was nice to finish it that way, coming out of the hole. Of course, we shouldn’t have dug the hole to begin with.”
Loveless finished with 13 kills. Riley Hill, getting more playing time after starter Brittney Warner suffered a broken bone in her foot earlier in the day, contributed six kills.
“I felt like we had an okay hitting game,” Solomon commented. “I still don’t feel like we’re hitting like we usually do. Allie was kind of off and on. She did some really smart things but I don’t feel like we had her power hit tonight like we usually do. We’ll hopefully get that fixed for tomorrow because we’re going to need it, playing Fayetteville. The girls are going to have to step up their game. We told them after the game, ‘From here on out, you’re playing the game of your life.’ That’s the mentality they’ve got to have.”
Anderson had three solo blocks. Sahlmann added two. Loveless and Selig each had one. Savannah Shelton finished with a game-high four aces. Sahlmann contributed 46 assists.
Whitney Brown led with 16 digs. Kaci Squires finished with 11, Shelton seven and Sahlmann and McKissock six each.
Bryant never trailed in the first set, opening up a 4-0 lead. The largest margin was 21-15. Rogers rallied but could get no closer than 22-19. Kills by Hill and Loveless at the end helped put the game away.
The Mounties led early in game two by as much as 9-4. It was tight after kills by Loveless and Dillard plus an ace by Anderson pulled the Lady Hornets ahead 11-10.
A series of kills by Anderson and a dink from Sahlmann pushed Bryant out to an 18-15 edge and, as late as 21-20. But this time it was Rogers that made a run at the end. With the match tied at 22 after a kill by Selig, Rogers’ Kassidy Wall had kill to spark her team to the win.
Bryant was back on mark again in the third set. Their lead was 5-4 when kills by Anderson and Hill spurred a run. Loveless got a block and Shelton contributed an ace as the lead expanded to 13-5. Bryant matched that advantage later at 23-15 before Wall responded with a pair of kills and Hannah Martin served up an ace to trim it to 23-18. A kill by Loveless and a block by Sahlmann closed it out in Bryant’s favor.