4A-1 Shaping Up As Toughest In State
PRAIRIE GROVE SWEPT BY PEA RIDGE
PRAIRIE GROVE — Pea Ridge defeated a young Prairie Grove squad, 25-16, 25-14, 25-19, in three sets Thursday, Sept. 6, in 4A-1 league volleyball action.
Veteran Pea Ridge coach Jessica Woods wasn’t taking anything for granted even with the sweep.
“Prairie Grove is a very athletic team,” Wood said, explaining her impressions of the youthful Tigers’ teamwork to set up an attack. “Prairie Grove showed tonight they’ve got some fight. They can really work together to make those things happen.”
Pea Ridge won in relatively similar fashion, taking games one and two by scores of 25-16 and 25-14, before holding off a fiesty Prairie Grove squad in the third and decisive set.
“We knew it was going to be tough because Jessica has built that program up and they have a lot of girls, from what I understand, that play club volleyball,” said Prairie Grove coach Mat Stewart. “You can tell. They’re verywell coached. They’re very good athletes and they’re very good volleyball players, and everything else. So we knew we had our work cut out for us tonight. (That’s) a very good team.”
The third set was close early before Pea Ridge pulled away extending an 8-6 lead with back-to-back kills concluded by Cassy Porter’s stroke to make the score, 11-6. Senior Sophia Nunziato broke the run for Prairie Grove with a kill of her own. Ashlyn Humphrey began another 3-1 Pea Ridge mini-run with a kill. This time Prairie Grove got a kill from sophomore Lexi Light to temporarily halt Pea Ridge’s momentum, but the Lady Tigers would get no closer than 14-10 although they grittily battled back from a 19-10 deficit.
Gabby Adams’ kill off the net gave the Lady Blackhawks a 21-14 lead. Then a dig went off the ceiling and Pea Ridge didn’t get a play, followed by Jansen Williams’ kill for Prairie Grove and a pair of hitting errors. The trio of Gracie Easterling (dig), Adams (set) and Josey Goldberg (kill) worked the offense and Pea Ridge moved to 22-17. Humphrey closed out the match with a big hit to make the final, 25-19, in the third set.
“These girls, they’re a fun group to watch,” Woods said. “We return our entire starting lineup from last year. They are great kids off the court. It’s nice that we’ve got a lot competing in practice. We’ve got a lot to pull into so it’s very exciting, adding to our practices with the young girls fighting.”
The Lady Tigers lost Sept. 4, at Huntsville in another 4A-1 league match, 25-20, 25-19, 25-23.
“Huntsville, I think we’re probably pretty evenly matched, despite the score,” Stewart said. “We made more errors than they did and didn’t recover from them. Just one of those things, they just played a better game than us.”
“They were all back and forth,” Stewart said. “The third set we had a pretty substantial lead and just kind of fell apart. One or two girls that served hurt us and that was the story of that third set. I think that if we had got that third set, it might have sparked us a little bit. You never know what’s going to happen after that.”
“I think we got better,” Stewart said. “I think we played Pea Ridge better than we played Farmington last week. Again, I think they’re one of the top teams in the state, they’re going to give people problems; but we got a lot of teams in our conference that are going to give people problems around the state. It’s definitely, in my opinion, the deepest conference from top to bottom.”
“Our girls’ never quit attitude, they want to keep getting better and you never know once mid to late season rolls around, that district tournament rolls around, I’m hoping that we’re to the point where we are a problem for people.”
Stewart sees the 4A-1 being the deepest, strongest volleyball conference overall since he began coaching at Prairie Grove.
“In my opinion it is,” Stewart said. “When you add Harrison, Farmington, to the mix of Shiloh and Pea Ridge … up to every school that’s in it, Huntsville, Gravette, Berryville obviously. Gentry is also much-improved from last year, so I think we’re going to get better as it goes on as well.”
Prairie Grove and Pea Ridge players battle at the net during a Thursday, Sept. 6, match won by the Lady Blackhawks, 25-16, 25-14, 25-19.