Photos by Kevin Nagle
So, you and your team are notified a few days before your season opening non-conference contest will suddenly[more] be counted as a league game to help determine seeding in a league you won’t be competing in. And that your third outing, on the road against, annually, one of the best Class 7A teams in the state will be counted for conference as well.
Focus and intensity for those matches has to be heightened.
That is the situation that the Bryant Lady Hornets volleyball team and head coach Beth Solomon found themselves in when the Arkansas Activities Association informed Bryant athletic director Mike Lee that, because the Lady Hornets will be seeded for State with the teams from the 7A-West Conference, they have to play 14 conference matches. And because Bryant has been shoe-horned into the South conference this year which only has six volleyball schools (Pine Bluff doesn’t have volleyball) and all Class 6A members, non-conference games scheduled against Van Buren and Conway became stand-in league games.
Confused? Welcome to the quagmire that is the AAA’s handling of the 7A/6A merger during the regular season and separation for the post-season. It’s a convoluted mess.
But, back to the Lady Hornets. On Thursday, Aug. 23, between those non-conference/conference matches, they hosted the Fountain Lake Lady Cobras, a strong Class 3A program but, nevertheless, a 3A program playing a 7A team that might be counted among the best in that classification before it’s done.
The Lady Cobras made them sweat it out a bit but the Lady Hornets ultimately prevailed, 25-23, 25-19, 17-25, 26-24.
In a JV match, Fountain Lake prevailed 17-25, 25-19, 15-9.
“I think maybe coming off that big win Tuesday night with Van Buren then turning around and playing,” Solomon acknowledged. “We had so much riding on that. We had to win that because that counted as conference for us as far as points go. So, we’re playing a smaller school, a 3A school, I think the girls were a little too confident that they would win. They didn’t play hard enough.
“Some of our key players were off big time tonight,” she added. “Our serves were off. Our jump serves are usually spot-on and we’re getting ace after ace after ace, which is one thing that helped us Tuesday night.”
That’s when Bryant defeated Van Buren in three sets.
“It’s also the first week of school and the girls are tired,” Solomon added. “And one thing the girls have really been looking at is playing Conway next Tuesday. We’ve been talking and talking and talking about it. So that’s partially my fault too. We know there’s a lot riding on Conway.”
As it turns out, the Lady Hornets will also face the Lady Wampus Cats first thing Saturday morning at the annual Little Rock Spikefest, which features 32 teams playing at four high schools. At 9 a.m., the two former conference rivals will play two games at Episcopal Collegiate High School. Bryant will also play pool play games against Magnolia at noon and Camden Fairview at 2 p.m. Bracket play will follow for all the teams divided into Gold, Silver and Bronze brackets based on pool play results.
One thing that worked well for the Lady Hornets was the outside hitting, by Brooke Howell and McKenzie Rice, particularly on the left side of the court. Howell wound up with 15 kills, Rice 11. Alyssa Anderson added eight and Courtney Davidson seven.
Hannah Rice had 33 assists and was good on 96 percent of her sets. She and Brittan Hays each had 14 digs. Rochelle Aguilar, the team’s libero, contributed 18 with McKenzie Rice contributing 15.
As a team, the Lady Hornets were good on 82 percent of their serves. Anderson finished with four aces while good on 17 of 19 serves. Hannah Rice had two aces. Davidson was good on all 14 of her serves and Hays was good on 13 of 14.
Bryant got out to a fast start building an 11-4 lead in the first game. Howell, Anderson, McKenzie Rice and Davidson each had kills during the run.
Fountain Lake rallied, however and, near the end, pulled even with the Lady Hornets 23-23. After Solomon called a timeout, Anderson and McKenzie Rice came through with kills to close out the set.
In the second game, the Lady Hornets ran out to a 9-2 advantage, a run that included both of Hannah Rice’s aces and one by Anderson. McKenzie Rice contributed two kills and Davidson another.
The Lady Cobras again whittled on the lead but could get no closer than 21-17. A hitting error cost them at that point and, with Anderson serving (and producing another ace) the Lady Hornets finished off game two.
Bryant led game three early as well. It was 6-2 at one point. This time, Fountain Lake pulled even at 10 then, on a hitting error by the Lady Hornets took the lead for the first time in the match. It was 12-12 then, after another miscue by Bryant, Fountain Lake pushed into the lead to stay. The final score of the third game was the largest margin.
And that momentum carried over into the fourth game which the Lady Cobras led most of the way. The largest edge was 10-4. Bryant cut that back to 10-8 but didn’t draw even until, with Hays serving, the Lady Hornets turned a 14-17 deficit into a 19-17 lead. The run was sparked by Rochelle Aguilar’s kill from the back row and helped along by a pair of Howell spikes from that left corner.
Fountain Lake, however, kept it tight and the game went back and forth. It was 24-24 and the Lady Cobras had the serve but a kill by McKenzie Rice snapped the tie and returned control to Bryant. With Hannah Rice serving, the Lady Hornets closed it out when Anderson and McKenzie Rice combined on a block that scored.
In the JV match, Emily Henson led the team with three kills. Erica Smith and Rylee Phillips had two each. Phillips was also perfect on 11 serves with five aces. Madison Greeno added four aces as she got in 14 of her 16 serves. Abby Staton led with eight assists and Nikki Clay was good on nine digs.