Photos by Rick Nation
For the Bryant Lady Hornets volleyball team, the elusive victory over the Conway Lady Wampus Cats will have to wait.
On Tuesday night at the Bryant High School gym, the Lady Hornets made a bid to knock off the Lady Cats and claim a share of the 7A/6A-Central Conference championship only to have Conway deny them in a hotly-contested four-set match, 25-21, 19-25, 22-25, 21-25.
As a result, the Lady Hornets will be the No. 2 seed to the Class 7A State Tournament in Conway starting Tuesday, Oct. 27. They’ll open against the Rogers Mounties at 6 p.m. Conway, as the No. 1 seed will have a bye. The Lady Cats will play at noon on Wednesday against the winner of a first-round match on Tuesday.
Bryant head coach Beth Solomon spent a while in the locker room with her seniors after Tuesday’s loss.
“That’s one thing I told the girls — not to make light of losing, obviously — but come next Saturday and we’re State champions, is it going to matter? Are we going to be worried about the fact that we just lost to Conway?” she related. “The answer’s no. From here, we’ve got to move forward. And I really believe I’ve got seven seniors ready to lead us on forward, on into that next step.
“In my opinion, going in as a second seed and playing the first game is better,” she said. “I’m not necessarily a huge fan of having that bye the first round. I think it’s better to play. We’re also now at the 6 o’clock game instead of the noon game, which is our more natural playing time. So they (the players) can kind of do their more normal thing during the day then go play like we do.
“Thursday, we play Central,” Solomon noted. “We’re not going to look past them. We need to take care of that one too. We are going to put this one behind us. We’ll use it for fuel to make us play better but we’re not going to dwell on it. We’re going to move forward, take care of business Thursday night against Central then next week during the State Tournament.”
Nonetheless, the Lady Cats’ win put a damper on an emotional Senior Night for the Lady Hornets that included an introductory video and a rousing introduction by Coach Lawrence Jefferson, who served as the interim head coach for the team in 2014. Seniors Allie Anderson, Whitney Brown, Shayla McKissock, Britney Sahlmann, Kendall Selig, Kaci Squires and Savannah Shelton were honored.
Fired up, the Lady Hornets roared to a 10-2 lead in the first set. Sahlmann and Anderson served up aces and sophomore Raven Loveless had two kills. Conway appeared to be a little rattled but it appeared that Bryant’s emotion wore off a little bit and Conway steadily eroded the lead, eventually putting together a run that turned a 9-15 deficit into a 17-15 advantage.
It was 19-16 when the Lady Hornets rallied, sparked by a kill from Selig. Brittney Warner and Alex Dillard followed with consecutive blocks that drew the Lady Hornets even. McKissock heightened the emotion with an ace to put Bryant back on top.
After a Conway timeout, a hitting error cost the Lady Cats but a block by Aly Brinkley produced a sideout. With Conway’s McKenzie Hart serving, the Lady Hornets came up with some remarkable digs before Anderson mashed one of her 19 kills to break serve. She then rotated to the service line and came through with an ace to make it 23-20.
Conway’s outside hitter Anna Lee Drennan, who led her team with 16 kills, interrupted with a kill but Warner’s kill and an ace by Shelton closed out the first game in Bryant’s favor.
In the second game, Anderson and Conway’s Kendahl Davenport (11 kills) traded kills before a series of hitting errors plagued the Lady Hornets. With kills by Brinkley and Drennan along with a pair of aces by Kyle Mahan, the Lady Cats gained the upper hand, 9-3. Bryant never regained the advantage during the set, trailing by as much as eight and never closer than four.
In the third set, Bryant re-energized and broke to a 6-1 advantage that turned into a 9-3 lead. Anderson had five kills and a service ace during that blitz. Sahlmann had a kill as well.
Again, however, Conway came back and it was a tight game the rest of the way. The set was tied at 10, 14, 15, 21 and 22 but the Lady Hornets only trailed briefly at 14-15. When it was tied at 22, however, Drennan scored on a dink and a block to force game point. A hitting error produced the final point.
The Lady Hornets, who needed to win in straight sets or by a wider margin in four than Conway had won by in their first meeting, pretty much lost their chance at a No. 1 seed at that point. But the share of the conference crown was still on the line as the fourth set commenced.
Once more, they started well with Anderson drilling three kills and Sahlmann serving up an ace, it was 5-1. Behind Drennan and Brinkley, the Lady Cats tied it at 5 but Bryant responded to maintain the advantage. Anderson added a pair of kills and Sahlmann had a dink that scored to make it 9-6.
Conway caught up again at 12 on an ace by Tori Popham. It was tied at 13, 14 and 15 before Drennan’s kill gave Conway the edge. Warner and Dillard had kills to keep the Lady Hornets within a point but they were unable to regain the lead.
Loveless finished with seven kills, Warner four with two each from Dillard, Sahlmann and Selig. Sahlmann had 24 assists and 11 digs. Brown led with 18 digs. Squires contributed eight.
At the service line, the Lady Hornets were good on 78 of 86 serves with eight aces. Anderson had four, Sahlmann two with Shelton and McKissock one each.
“It really looked like we were going to light it up tonight and take care of business,” Solomon said. “I’m not 100 percent sure what happened. I don’t know if maybe it was all the hype around it. I really don’t know. We just weren’t really playing our game.
“We didn’t play bad,” she asserted. “There were plays we weren’t finishing, making little mistakes here and there — those little mistakes we can make against certain teams but we can’t make those little mistakes against Conway. We can’t give up that many points.”
The rivals could meet again but, if that were to happen, it would come in the State championship match in Hot Springs. Would Solomon like another shot at the Lady Cats?
“Yes and no,” she stated. “I don’t know if we’ll get one or not because if they lose (at State) then we won’t see them. Now I fully expect us to just keep going. We’ll just have to see.”
In a JV match, Conway prevailed 25-22, 25-19. The Lady Hornets had 17 kills as a team. Reagan Blend had seven. Shaelyn Smith and Reagan Dabbs had three each. Ashlyn Lee finished with two. Riley Hill and Jad’n Nichols added one each.
Lee led with 12 assists. Bonvillain had two aces and Kyla Baker one as the team finished with just three service errors in 56 attempts.