Photos by Kevin Nagle
Four times, the Bryant Lady Hornets faced a match point for the Greenwood Lady Bulldogs in the fifth set of the 7A/6A-Central Conference battle on Tuesday night. And four times, they avoided it before they gained the upper hand on a stellar block by Kendall Selig, which came on the heels of Allie Anderson’s 19th kill. Erin Black’s kill that came down just barely on the sideline tied the set at 18 but back-to-back dinks by setter Brittney Sahlmann put the Lady Hornets over the top.
The Lady Bulldogs had to wrest away the momentum from Bryant, which won the first two sets. Greenwood rallied to win the next two, setting up the hotly contested rubber game. In the end, the Lady Hornets prevailed 25-21, 25-23, 14-25, 18-25, 20-18. It snapped a five-match regular-season slide for Bryant and gives the team a lift going into its most important match of the season, at Mount St. Mary of Little Rock this Thursday.
For, while Greenwood, a 6A school, was a conference match, it doesn’t count towards Bryant’s chances of making the Class 7A State Tournament in Fayetteville. Only the league outings against 7A foes go toward that. That’s those matches with Conway, Van Buren and Mount. And only three of the four go to State.
“We beat a really good team tonight,” acknowledged Bryant coach Lawrence Jefferson. “Maybe we can carry it over to Thursday night. If we win that, we’ve got a good shot at making State. We have must-wins against Mount and Van Buren.”
That didn’t make it any less of an accomplishment for the Lady Hornets, Jefferson asserted. Greenwood came into the match in third place in the conference overall at 5-2, just behind unbeaten Russellville and once-beaten Conway.
“It was a big win tonight,” he stated. “Greenwood’s a very good team, very well coached. They gave us all we wanted when we went there (on Sept. 4). It went four and it was back and forth all night. The girls really stepped up tonight, especially that last game.
“Allie did really well tonight,” the coach added. “Brittney, her serving was spot-on. I was really impressed with our passing. And we dug up a lot tonight, Whitney Brown and Nikki Clay and Abby Staton did a phenomenal job on the back row. I appreciate the job they do. The serving was better tonight. I thought we played well.”
Brown had 41 digs, Clay 16.
In the final set, Greenwood took the early lead. It reached 9-6 before a serving error cost the Lady Bulldogs and Anderson came up with three kills in the next four plays as Bryant surged to an 11-9 advantage, forcing a Greenwood timeout.
The Lady Bulldogs rallied to tie it at 13 forcing a Bryant timeout. A net violation on Greenwood allowed the Lady Hornets to gain the upper hand again. But consecutive kills by Madison Pfeifer had Greenwood at match-point 15-14.
A hitting error cost the Lady Bulldogs but a service error produced another match-point situation. Mercedes Dillard evened it up with one of her 11 kills but Black answered to make it the fourth match-point as the drama intensified.
That led to Anderson’s kill, Selig’s block and Sahlmann’s dinks to produce the win for Bryant.
In the opening game Bryant trailed most of the way. It was 18-14 when Dillard and Anderson came through with kills that drew the Lady Hornets even at 18. A hitting error by Greenwood put them up. Though Black tied it. Another hitting error put Bryant up for good. Anderson had two kills on the Lady Hornets’ way to closing it out.
The second game was led by Greenwood until a Dillard kill tied it at 15. It was tied at 16 and 23 but, shades of things to come, Sahlmann snapped that final deadlock with a dink and Anderson pounded home the game-winner.
The third set was tight but when Anderson gave the Lady Hornets a 10-9 edge, it was their last lead of the game. Pfeifer’s kill and Codie Robertson’s ace sparked a 16-4 finish for the revitalized Lady Bulldogs.
The Lady Hornets scored the first three points of the fourth game but never held another edge after Greenwood rallied to go up 5-4. It was tied 707 before the Lady Bulldogs surged from there. Kills by Dillard, Anderson and Rylee Phillips plus an ace by Brown allowed the Lady Hornets to challenge at the end of the match and may have provided the spark they needed in the final set.