Lady Hornets make Lady Mavs earn conference sweep

For more photos of this event by Kevin Nagle, go here

Bryant’s Cassie Land (27) goes up to try to block a hit by Southside’s Toree Tiffee. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

There came a point during the Bryant Lady Hornets 6A-Central Conference match against the Fort Smith Southside Lady Mavericks at the Hornets’ Nest on Tuesday night, when the home team appeared to feel a spark.

They had already lost the first set to the tradition-rich Lady Mavs, 9-25, and trailed in the second set 15-24 when a service error by Southside gave the Lady Hornets control. With Sam Still in service, Bryant rallied. Truli Bates had a kill. Moments later, Madelyn Hoskins had one. And when Bates pounded a cross-court hit for another kill, suddenly the Lady Hornets were within 24-19 with control.

Though a hitting error cost them the set at that point, there seemed to be a newfound grit in Bryant’s demeanor.

Now, at Southside, volleyball is THE women’s sport. The best athletes on campus play it, develop tremendous skills, and they expect to excel. And, annually, they’re one of the best teams in the conference and, often, in the state. This year’s version is blessed with an outstanding frontline that included a University of Arkansas commit Avery Fitzgerald along with Toree Tiffee and Aleigha Johnson, all big hitters.

The Lady Hornets, still jelling, still honing their skills, trying to break through a somewhat disheartening tradition, scrapped and battled the Lady Mavs to the hilt in the third set before falling 23-25, showing some genuine grit.

Truli Bates (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

“Yes, and it’s about time,” acknowledged Lady Hornets head coach Leigh Ann Back. “We watched a little bit of film today and the girls realized, from top to bottom, that it’s a lot of little things that we’re not doing. Not reading blocks; not staying at base; just a lot of little things that we’re not doing that, those little things fixed, can made a huge difference.

“They finally decided to fix a few of them,” she said. “We still have more to fix but, yes, I think they’re finally deciding that maybe they can.”

Regarding the slow start, Back said, “I think we’ve been beaten down, and at our own hand. I think we’ve done that all season, we’ve beaten ourselves down. We’re slowly deciding that we can, and we’re going to fight back.”

Statistically, Bates had six kills to lead Bryant. Ella Reynolds and Hoskins had five each. Still and Reynolds had 13 digs apiece. Cora Edwards finished with 11 assists and Shaylee Carver nine.

In the first set, the two teams went back and forth early. Hoskins and Reynolds had kills for Bryant and Edwards served up an ace. But after Reynolds tied it at 5, Southside scored the next 11 points with Kelsey Hamilton serving.

A service error at 16-5 finally resulted in a sideout and a kill by Sammie Jo Ferguson made it 16-7. A hitting error cost the Lady Hornets control and, after an ace by Tiffee and a kill by Reynolds, the Lady Mavs got a roll going again. They scored the last five points, spurred by three kills by Fitzgerald.

The second set was closer longer. Bryant held the upper hand at 6-5 on a dink by Ferguson. A hitting error by Southside made it 7-5. The set was tied at 7, 8 and 10 then the Lady Mavs pushed it to 15-11 as Back took a timeout. When play resumed Southside’s Grace Atchison served up an ace but Hoskins broke serve with a kill. But the Lady Mavs eventually built the 24-15 lead that preceded Bryant’s rally at the end of the set.

Bryant led for much of the third set. Neither team held an edge of more than four. It was tied 6-6 when Olivia German served up an ace and Ivory Russ followed with a kill to put the Lady Hornets ahead. Back-to-back hitting errors by Southside had the Lady Hornets up 10-6.

Tiffee and Reynolds traded kills. The Lady Mavs fought back to tie it at 12 but another kill by Hoskins followed by an ace from Erin Thompson kept Bryant ahead.

The set was tied at 15, 16, 17 and 18 with Southside matching each Lady Hornets’ score. A dink by the Lady Mavs’ Hannah Hogue gave her team the upper hand, 19-18. Kills by Fitzgerald on either side of another by Hoskins had Southside up 23-20 before a hitting error resulted in a sideout.

Another hitting error by the Lady Mavs and a clutch ace off the serve of Edwards had the match tied at 23. But Southside scored the next two points to close out the set and the match.

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