Ward Left Im­print Upon Farm­ing­ton Ath­let­ics


Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - SPORTS - By Mark Humphrey

FARM­ING­TON — Lady Car­di­nal head vol­ley­ball coach Mar­shall Ward re­signed to take a job at Haas Hall with vol­un­teer as­sis­tant and close friend Mike Howard tak­ing his place.

“It broke my heart to leave Farm­ing­ton, but I got a job of­fer that was too good for me to pass up,” Ward said, speak­ing dur­ing the Lady Car­di­nals’ match at ri­val Prairie Grove which Farm­ing­ton swept, 25-23, 25-16, 25-14, on Thurs­day. “I still sup­port them. I will al­ways sup­port them.”

Ward and his wife still re­side in Farm­ing­ton. Haas Hall, a pub­lic char­ter school, has cam­puses in Ben­tonville, Fayet­teville, Rogers and Spring­dale. A re­cruit­ment bul­letin posted on its web­site states: “Due to our con­trolled growth plan, Haas Hall Acad­emy is seek­ing fac­ulty and staff at each of our cam­puses in North­west Arkansas.”

Dur­ing his ten­ure as head vol­ley­ball coach from 2013 through 2017, Ward ex­pe­ri­enced a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing. When he first ar­rived on the scene Farm­ing­ton was a 4A school still build­ing a foun­da­tion un­der the pro­gram. Ward led the Lady Car­di­nals (7-10, 6-5) into the State 4A Tour­na­ment in his first sea­son as head coach in 2013. They lost to Wal­dron (25-18, 24-26, 23-25, 21-25) in a tough four-set match.

Ward be­gan to work with ath­letes on the me­chan­ics of be­ing able to hit a vol­ley­ball hard. Ward em­pha­sized hit­ting with good tech­nique and ben­e­fited from hav­ing girls be­gin­ning to play the sport at a younger age.

“Vol­ley­ball was still a very young pro­gram so I did get to be a part of growth,” Ward said. “Even though I’m not play­ing that part any­more I still feel like I am a part of the pro­gram — just as a fan now.

Ward’s best sea­son at Farm­ing­ton came in 2014 un­der the pres­sure of play­ing to fin­ish among the top four 5A West teams in reg­u­lar sea­son stand­ings with no con­fer­ence tour­na­ment. The Lady Car­di­nals were on the bub­ble all year, and en­tered the last week of the reg­u­lar sea­son hav­ing to win twice just to give them­selves a chance to qual­ify for the state tour­na­ment.

Farm­ing­ton ac­com­plished its ob­jec­tive with a se­nior night (25-13, 25-21, 25-15) sweep of Clarksville on Oct. 21, 2014, and a nail-bit­ing road win (20-25, 25-21, 25-13, 25-21) at Vilo­nia on Oct. 23, 2014. The Lady Car­di­nals got help both nights within the con­fer­ence with Lit­tle Rock Chris­tian beat­ing Green­brier Oct. 21, 2014, and Mor­ril­ton go­ing into five sets with Green­brier on Oct. 23, 2014, be­fore win­ning the tiebreaker, 16-14.

Ward didn’t al­low com­pla­cency to set in with the achieve­ment, and the Lady Car­di­nals fol­lowed his lead dur­ing the 2014 state vol­ley­ball tour­na­ment held at Val­ley View High School at Jones­boro. Un­sat­is­fied with merely qual­i­fy­ing for state, Farm­ing­ton knocked off No. 1 seed, Hot Springs Lake­side (20-25, 25-21, 25-23, 25-21) to ad­vance into the State 5A quar­ter­fi­nal. The Lady Car­di­nals bowed out of tour­na­ment play with a five set (25-18, 11-25, 16-25, 25-23, 14-16) loss to Nettleton in the state quar­ter­fi­nal.

Farm­ing­ton en­joyed an­other pro­duc­tive year and again qual­i­fied for state in the 5A ranks in 2016. The Lady Car­di­nals fin­ished 12-11-2 over­all and 4-8 in league play. Farm­ing­ton beat Green­brier in five sets (25-16, 17-25, 31-29, 17-25, 15-7) in the first-round of the 5A West Con­fer­ence tour­na­ment. They suf­fered a 3-1 loss to Har­ri­son in the semi­fi­nals, which put them in the un­en­vi­able bracket po­si­tion of tak­ing on State 5A tour­na­ment host, Val­ley View, los­ing 25-12, 25-17, 25-14.

Last sea­son, the Lady Car­di­nals wound up 5-15-1 with a 3-9 con­fer­ence record that in­cluded com­pe­ti­tion against 6A schools Green­wood, Rus­sel­lville and Siloam Springs in a mixed dis­trict.

Ward’s vol­ley­ball ex­per­tise was well re­spected. He was a mem­ber of the Arkansas Ac­tiv­i­ties As­so­ci­a­tion vol­ley­ball ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee, which in­cluded: Lisa Beasley, of Marion, 6A; Janna Berry, of Wal­nut Ridge, 3A; Brandy Chum­ley, of Ben­ton, 6A; Laura Crow, of Con­way, 7A; Ja­son Freeman, of Cut­ter Morn­ing Star, 2A; Natalie Martin, of New­port, 4A; Laura Park, of Lonoke, 4A; Melissa Thames, of Cam­den Fairview, 5A; Ward rep­re­sent­ing Farm­ing­ton as a 5A school; and Nick Lasker, as the AAA li­ai­son.

A va­cancy al­ready ex­isted from the 2A ranks on that board, and Farm­ing­ton was among schools shift­ing in clas­si­fi­ca­tion from 5A to 4A for vol­ley­ball be­gin­ning with the 2018 sea­son. Ward ap­pre­ci­ates the op­por­tu­nity he was given and cher­ishes the ex­pe­ri­ence of mov­ing into the coach­ing ranks.

“I have mem­o­ries of coach­ing and watch­ing my girls en­joy their achieve­ments,” Ward said. “I just think that’s ir­re­place­able. I just feel very lucky to have played that part and work with th­ese kids and watch them grow and suc­ceed.”


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