Photos by Kevin Nagle
Sometimes a loss can lead to a win. For one thing, a loss can reveal weaknesses a team didn’t know it had. Those become points of emphasis in practice and improvement results. But there’s also this:
When your loss comes on the road to a tough opponent and you play them right down to the nub and really challenge for a win, it can do wonders for a team’s confidence.
That’s what happened in the Bryant Lady Hornets’ 7A/6A-Central Conference opener at Greenwood, a program that produced a State championship in 2011. Three of the four games there went beyond the 25-point level and Greenwood had to really fight to escape with the win.
The Lady Hornets followed that up with a fine showing at the annual Little Rock Spikefest, reaching the semifinals of the Gold bracket (which included all the top teams from pool play).
And, on Tuesday, Bryant returned to league play with its first home match in the sauna that is the Hornets Nest gym this time of year. One game from a loss (trailing 1-2), however, the Lady Hornets rallied to win the match 21-25, 25-22, 20-25, 25-12, 15-13.
It was a fine present to head coach Beth Solomon, who gave birth earlier in the day.
“I think that was a match that lit a fire under them, made them realize, ‘Hey, we can compete,’” acknowledged interim head coach Lawrence Jefferson, referring to the Greenwood contest. “They hold themselves accountable. That’s one thing we’ve worked on in practice is, ‘Hold yourself accountable to the team.’ When you make a mistake, it’s up to you to fix it. I try not to bail them out with timeouts. I’ve got faith in them that they’re going to do the right thing and it paid off tonight.”
In the final game, the Lady Hornets got a lift from Nikki Clay to start. She broke serve with a kill then served up and ace after a Belles hitting error. A kill by Mount’s Madison Uhlig broke serve, making it 3-1 but, with Mercedes Dillard serving, the Lady Hornets picked up two more points on hitting errors by the Belles.
But Mount rallied to take a 9-8 lead. Kendall Selig’s kill tied it up. She toed the service line and a kill by Savannah Shelton returned the lead to Bryant. After another hitting error made it 11-9, Shelton and Rylee Phillips combined on a block that made it a three-point game and moved Mount to take a timeout.
The Belles cut it back to 12-11 but a hitting error cost them control. With Shelton serving, the Belles lost a point with four touches, making it 14-11. But another kill by Uhlig helped the Belles cut it to 14-13. A play at the net in which Phillips may have had a block gave Bryant a dramatic win.
“Our girls played their hearts out tonight,” Jefferson said. “We’ve really been practicing hard on digs and serve-receive and I think they’ve finally figured it out. They’re working hard every day, getting better every day and that’s all I can ask from them.”
Asked the difference after the third game, Jefferson answered, “I think we passed better. Our hits were about the same. I think the heat had a little bit to do with it. We’re used to practicing in here.
“Kudos to all of them,” he added. “Savannah came in as a sub and played really good. She did a real good job when I brought her in for Nikki and that helped Nikki get her legs and not get dehydrated out there. Savannah provided a good spark and it gave Nikki a good spark at that. She played well.”
Allie Anderson led the Lady Hornets with 16 kills in the match. She came through with a flurry in the late stages of the fourth game to quiet Mount’s bid at a rally. Dillard and Clay each had four kills, Selig three.
Britney Sahlmann was good on all 23 of her serves with an ace along the way. Selig got 14 of her 18 serves in with Clay 12 of 14. Whitney Brown was 11 of 12.
The first game of the match was close throughout. Neither team led by more than a point until right at the end. The Belles took a 21-19 lead and, after Anderson and Mount’s Maggie Saad traded kills, Bryant was down 21-22 with the serve. But a long serve then a hitting error put the Belles in position to take the game. A kill by Garrett Gentry finished it.
Bryant gained the upper hand in the second game when, tied 4-4, they reeled off an 8-1 run, mostly with Brown serving. Selig and Sahlmann each scored off blocks and Sahlmann came through with her ace after an exchange of control. Clay scored on a dink to make it 12-5.
The Belles made a run to cut it to 17-15 then 24-23 but couldn’t gain the advantage. Anderson’s kill closed out the win.
In turn, Mount led all the way in the third match. The Lady Hornets pulled within one on four occasions. Dillard’s kill got it to 10-11 then later, Anderson contributed a kill to a surge that turned a 15-19 deficit to 18-19. Uhlig’s kill helped the Belles retain the upper hand.
A series of service errors followed as Bryant came within 19-20 then 20-21 before the Belles surged to the win highlighted by kills from Amanda Strack and Lauren Sink.
Shades of things to come, Clay started the fourth game with a pair of kills and an ace as the Lady Hornets took a 3-1 lead. A kill and an ace by Anderson as well as a kill by Selig pushed it to 11-5.
An ace by Hannah Shaw had the Belles within 7-12 but that was as close as they would get the rest of the game. Bryant put it away on three kills by Anderson and one each from Selig and Alex Dillard.
Now 6-3-1 overall and 1-1 in league play, the Lady Hornets travel to Van Buren on Thursday for another conference battle.