Ben­ton duo inks to play at next level

Buchanan head­ing out of state

The Saline Courier - - SPORTS - By Tony Le­na­han tle­na­[email protected]­ton­courier.com

BEN­TON – Af­ter a very suc­cess­ful ca­reer with the Ben­ton Lady Pan­thers vol­ley­ball team, earn­ing All-state hon­ors and lead­ing Ben­ton to the 5A state cham­pi­onship game this past year, se­nior set­ter Ly­dia Buchanan will be get­ting closer to her home­town af­ter sign­ing to play vol­ley­ball for the Walters State Community Col­lege Wed­nes­day at Ben­ton High School.

Buchanan said it was a tough choice be­tween Walters State, lo­cated in Mor­ris­town, Ten­nessee, and Oua­chita Bap­tist Univer­sity in Arkadel­phia.

“It was be­tween Oua­chita Bap­tist Univer­sity and Walters State,” Buchanan said. “I loved Oua­chita Bap­tist and it was a very hard choice be­tween the two schools. The coaches and the play­ers at the two schools were just amaz­ing, but Walters State was my home.”

Buchanan ex­panded on why she chose Walters State.

“The coaches and the play­ers, and just the at­mos­phere felt very homey,”

she said. “The coaches were very wel­com­ing and the girls … I went to an open gym back in July and they just wel­comed me and I wasn’t even think­ing about go­ing there yet.”

Walters State, just north­east of Knoxville, Ten­nessee, is a lot closer to her orig­i­nal home­town.

“We are from a lit­tle town called Ir­win, Ten­nessee,” Buchanan said. “It’s about an hour and 45 min­utes away from the col­lege, but they’re (her par­ents) think­ing about mov­ing back to Greenville. I’m very ex­cited about mov­ing back to Ten­nessee and hope­fully my grandparen­ts, my cousins will all get to see me be­cause I live 12 hours away right now.”

Start­ing since her sopho­more sea­son for the Lady Pan­thers, Buchanan teamed

up with then se­nior Caitlin Mur­dock at set­ter in a 6-2 sys­tem.

“She has cre­ated sta­bil­ity at the set­ting po­si­tion,” said Ben­ton Coach Michelle Shop­pach, who was Buchanan’s ju­nior high coach be­fore tak­ing over the var­sity coach­ing reins this past sea­son. “We were able to run a 6-2 as a sopho­more and a 5-1 as a ju­nior and se­nior. (Buchanan) puts up a de­cent block on the right side and she’s able to get the ball to the hit­ters we need and makes the de­fense guess about what she’s do­ing. When she plays above the net, she’s as good as any of them.

“She has a knack for know­ing where there are open spots, shoot­ing the ball to right back, left back, and she’s got­ten a ton of kills for us, and adding a dump

to the dough­nut hole. This year she’s fi­nally gone up with a re­ally strong swing and hit­ting with power.”

Buchanan was all over the stat sheet in her All­state se­nior sea­son, lead­ing the squad with 756 as­sists, adding 116 kills as a set­ter, 47 ser­vice aces, 49 blocks, which was sec­ond on the team, and 145 digs. Buchanan cred­its her coaches at Ben­ton, in­clud­ing former var­sity Coach Brandy Chum­ley and as­sis­tant coach Rachel Dod­son, to help her grow as a player.

“I would def­i­nitely say the coaches that I’ve had have im­pacted me a lot and I wouldn’t be the player I am today,” she said. “I grew a lot from my sopho­more to se­nior year, and thanks to Coach Chum­ley, Coach Dod­son and Coach Shoop (Shop­pach), all the coaches

who’ve im­pacted me to make me the player I am today.”

Buchanan, who plans to ma­jor in busi­ness af­ter switch­ing from crim­i­nal jus­tice and graphic de­sign, cred­its her team as well.

“The team has meant ev­ery­thing,” she said. “I’ve made so many friends, so many mem­o­ries on this team. I don’t think I’m ready to let it go, but the day will come when I’ll have to let it go. This group has had so much grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion to make that hap­pen that

I’m very proud to be a part of this team with all th­ese spe­cial girls that have the com­mit and grit. That’s what Ben­ton has taught me – you have to push through the hard times, you have to look at the end of the tun­nel and just com­mit and grit.”

“Ly­dia is one of the sweet­est,

most kind-hearted best ath­letes that has come through here, and I’ve been here a long time,” Chum­ley, who cur­rently coaches the sev­enth grade, said. “She works re­ally hard. She’s got some of the best hands we’ve seen come through our pro­gram. It’s just so good to see all her hard work come through.”

And Shop­pach said Walters State is def­i­nitely get­ting an as­set in Buchanan, who will be hard to re­place.

“She’s got a va­ri­ety of sets,” Shop­pach said. “She’s not one-di­men­sional by any means. She di­rects the of­fense sim­i­lar to what a quar­ter­back does and we’re go­ing to miss that pres­ence. We’ve got big shoes to fill.”

TONY LE­NA­HAN/ The Saline Courier

Ben­ton se­niors Ly­dia Buchanan, left, and Jaden Wool­bright sign to play at the next level Wed­nes­day at Ben­ton High School.

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