Lady Pan­thers run­ner-up at state

The Saline Courier Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Tony Le­na­han

The Ben­ton Lady Pan­thers volleyball team pose with their 5A State Tour­na­ment run­ner-up tro­phy af­ter fall­ing to the Jones­boro Lady Hur­ri­cane Satur­day at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs.

– Reach­ing the state fi­nals for the first time since 2013 af­ter win­ning it in 2009, it wasn’t meant to be for the Ben­ton Lady Pan­thers Satur­day morn­ing at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs. The Jones­boro Lady Hur­ri­cane would sweep the Lady Pan­thers 3-0 to claim their sec­ond straight 5A State Tour­na­ment cham­pi­onship.

Jones­boro fin­ished its sea­son with­out a loss, go­ing 35-0 over­all, and were just two much for the Lady Pan­thers on Satur­day. The Lady Hur­ri­cane took the first set 25-15, won the sec­ond 25-13 and af­ter Ben­ton went up 15-6 in the third, Jones­boro came back to claim the third set 28-26 in a great bat­tle. Hur­ri­cane se­nior cap­tain Clara Parker took the state cham­pi­onship MVP.

“We did what we wanted to do,” Ben­ton first-year Coach Michelle Shop­pach said. “The kids fol­lowed our di­rec­tions re­ally well. Jones­boro just over­pow­ered us. De­fen­sively we weren’t able to fin­ish what we wanted to so we weren’t able to get as many swings as we wanted to.”

The Lady Pan­thers (25-4) took a 1-0 lead in the first set on a dou­ble block for point by ju­nior Hannah Brewer and se­nior Ri­ley Hath­cote. Jones­boro tied things up at 1-1 be­fore Ben­ton ju­nior Katie Strick­land picked up a kill and an­other dou­ble block by Brewer and se­nior set­ter Ly­dia Buchanan made it a 3-1 Ben­ton lead.

The Lady Pan­thers went up 4-2 on fresh­man Abi­gail Lage­mann’s kill, with Brewer spik­ing down two to put Ben­ton up 6-4. Jones­boro fought back to take a 7-6 lead, but Ben­ton would tie things up at 8-8 af­ter sopho­more Laci Bo­han­nan’s kill.

It would be all Lady Hur­ri­cane af­ter that, though, as se­nior Mag­gie Beth Horn had two kills as­sisted by se­nior set­ter Kellen Church to start a 5-0 run, tak­ing a 13-8 lead Jones­boro would never re­lin­quish as the

Lady Hur­ri­cane claimed the 10-point win.

Look­ing timid in the sec­ond set, the Lady Pan­thers were never in it as they couldn’t set up a con­sis­tent at­tack, and un­forced er­rors led to their down­fall in the 12-point loss.

“The kids kept fight­ing, look­ing for an­swers,”

Shop­pach said. “We made 14,000 ad­just­ments and they would work two or three points, and then Jones­boro would come through and go on a 2- or 3-point run.”

Ben­ton looked a like a dif­fer­ent team in the third set as the Lady Pan­thers were big at the net with Bo­hanan spik­ing one down to start a 4-0 run which in­cluded con­sec­u­tive dou­ble blocks and capped by a Hath­cote kill. Jones­boro re­sponded with a 4-0 run capped by two Mikayla John­son kills to take a 5-4 lead, but the Lady Pan­thers re­sponded with their long­est run of the match (8-0) be­gan by Buchanan’s kill and se­nior Mary Grace Guerra’s ace, while Brewer had three con­sec­u­tive kills for the 12-5 lead.

Two more Brewer kills put the Lady Pan­thers up 15-6, but Jones­boro went on a 7-1 run capped by three con­sec­u­tive kills by Horn to get within 16-13. The Lady Hur­ri­cane con­tin­ued to whit­tle the lead down be­fore Bo­han­nan put one down to give Ben­ton a 19-16 lead, but Jones­boro would tie things up 19-19 aided by Ben­ton mishits.

The Hur­ri­cane would go up 22-20 af­ter a Parker kill, but Ben­ton didn’t fold. A cou­ple of Brewer kills and a dou­ble block by Lage­mann and se­nior Katie Mor­ri­son tied things at 23-23, and it looked as if Ben­ton went up 24-23 on an­other dou­ble block by Bo­han­nan and Mor­ri­son, but a net call gave the point to Jones­boro.

It was back and forth the rest of the way as Bo­han­nan put one down to tie things at 26-all, but kills from Parker and John­son gave the Lady Hur­ri­cane the sweep and state ti­tle.

“I’m re­ally please with how we fought in the third set,” Shop­pach said. “We needed to get that third set and fin­ish it off.”

Brewer led the Lady Pan­thers with 12 kills, five dou­ble blocks and a solo block, while Buchanan led the way with 28 as­sists, adding two kills and two dou­ble blocks.

Bo­han­nan had seven kills, Hath­cote had four kills and two dou­ble blocks, and Lage­mann had three kills and two dou­ble blocks. Mor­ri­son added two kills and a dou­ble block, Strick­land and sopho­more Bis­sette Chil­dress had a kill each and Guerra had an ace.

The Lady Pan­thers will say good­bye to seven se­niors, in­clud­ing Buchanan, Hath­cote, Mor­ri­son, Guerra, Rae­ley Wilson, Grace Neigh­bors and Kirsten Garner, who couldn’t play due to in­jury.

But, Ben­ton’s fu­ture looks bright with plenty of tal­ent re­turn­ing.

“Su­per proud,” Shop­pach said hold­ing back tears.

“It’s been fun. I’ve had them since the eighth grade. It’s been fun to prac­tice, it’s been fun to play, it’s been re­ally fun when we’ve got­ten to play qual­ity op­po­nents.

It’s been fun to see them grow as young ladies.”

GREG Davis/spe­cial to The Sa­line Courier

GREG Davis/spe­cial to The Sa­line Courier

Ben­ton se­nior Grace Neigh­bors, 20, and sopho­more Laci Bo­han­nan go up for a block in a 3-0 loss to the Jones­boro Lady Hur­ri­cane in the 5A state ti­tle game Satur­day at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs.

GREG DAVIS/ Spe­cial to The Sa­line Courier

Ben­ton ju­nior Hannah Brewer spikes a ball in a 3-0 loss to Jones­boro in the 5A state ti­tle game Satur­day at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs Satur­day. Brewer led the Lady Pan­thers with 12 kills in the cham­pi­onship game de­feat. Ben­ton fin­ishes with a 25-4 record over­all.

GREG Davis/spe­cial to The Sa­line Courier

Ben­ton sopho­more Bis­sette Chil­dress passes a ball in a 3-0 loss to Jones­boro in the 5A State Tour­na­ment cham­pi­onship game at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs Satur­day.

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