BY RICK WRIGHT –
The Mena Ladycats swept the Fountain Lake Lady Cobras three games to none to win the 2016 District Tournament Volleyball Championship Thursday in Union Bank Center at Mena High School.
Neither Mena nor Fountain Lake could go on a run to pull away. As the final scores indicated, this was close to the very final points of each game. Each school coming up with dig after dig, scrambling on each point, looking for the oposition to make a mistake. However, Mena prevailed, earning points when they counted most to win the Tournament Championship.
The Ladycats came from behind to win game one 25-23. Mena edged Fountain Lake 30-28 in game two, and took the tournament championship title with a 27-25 victory in game three.
“Very, very touch battle,” said Ladycat Head Volleyball Coach Brad Lyle. “One thing I can say, is they fought. We didn’t play well. Fountain Lake had some to do with that, but we just didn’t play our game. I told them before the game that all I wanted them to do is ‘Be You’ don’t try to do more than you can do and obviously don’t do less than you can do.”
“We tried to do more than we were suppose to do most of the game,” said Lyle. “I told them, they played so tight, and so wired, all three games until the end. In two of the games when we were really beat, it took them realizing they were beat to go back to playing our game. Once they did, it was not a contest. If you take the last 10 points of game one and three and the last five points of game two, out of those 25 points, we probably scored 20 points to their five. Thats a ten point swing. For the whole night, we beat them six points total.”
“Even though we have several seniors, we are still young,” said Lyle. “Because some of my seniors have never played varsity. I didn’t hope to see that this late. But that was the first district championship some of them have ever played in, so I can see it. My only hope is we learned from it, because I hope we play another big game coming up soon. Tuesday will be a big game. There could be that chance to work your way into, if we win this one, we could get into the state championship game. So really, the prize gets bigger when you win a game from here on out. Hopefully, if we get into another situation where they realize if we win this its something really big, it’s something we will have learned.”
The Ladycats found a way to win and earn a spot in the state tournament.
“They’ll appreciate it more because they had to work for it,” said Lyle. “It will be something they remember. I’m happy for them, because they’ve always lived in the shadow of group and nobody gave them a chance this year. I’ve had people tell me, we’d be alright this year. And you know, we did loose a lot. We lost some of the greatest players I’ve ever coached. But we also had kids ready to step in an we’re not done yet. Thursday night was great and they were happy but I was glad it wasn’t like it was the most important thing ever because I do think we have a real shot. It’s going to be tough, but we’re not done yet.
“We are different this year,” said Lyle. “We’ve played like Paris, with power, that’s how we were last year. Pass it up, set it up and and buddy, somebody is fixing to crank it down your throat. We have that element in our game. But last year, I had six girls at all positions, every rotation. I’ve got some girls who can place the ball very well and they can hit the ball very well, but as far as knocking it down at the 10 foot line, they just don’t have that ability. And so the term I use is we are not a power team, we are a finesse team. That’s what we are. We do more setter dumps. Last year, everybody knew what we were going to do. Most teams just couldn’t stop it.
“This year, teams don’t know what we are going to do. We put the ball in Sealy’s hands. She moves it here and there, she sets hitters up, she saves impossible passes and makes hitable sets. Sometimes, she’ll dump one over and it doesn’t score. And people will say ‘Oh if you’d have set up…’ But we scouted Fountain Lake and we watched it as the game went on, their base defense, when we finally started going in game one, we won because we had they’re defense figured out. When we made the game one run at the end, we knew what they were doing and we attacked what they were doing. As a good team will do, they adjusted. The kicker in game two, they changed their defense. They started working against the strength that we had displayed in game one.
“99 percent of the people up in the stands wouldn’t have known it,” said Lyle. “It is Coach Thigpen and I’s job to watch for that and we knew it was coming. We saw them do that against Booneville the other night. We had to kind of trick them into going back into the defense we wanted them too. So, several times, Sealy would go up and dump it and it would not score. But what it did was it tell that girl, ‘I better move over there because she may dump it again,’ but instead, she sets it up for Grace to pound it right where that girl left. Coach Hobson caught it. But most people didn’t understand. It’s kind of like in softball, sometimes that pitcher throws it outside on purpose, to get the batter to lean a little bit further out, then on the next pitch the pitcher busts them inside.
“Sealy scored on some of that stuff too,” said Lyle. “She causes defenses to do things they don’t want to do. Then when Grace goes up and hits one, there is nobody there. And we strategically have her hitting where no one is there, the areas Sealy made them vacate.”
“It’s taken me a long time and I’ve learned a lot from Coach Thigpen with her experience at the college level. At the college level, every point has to be dictated towards the next point. I knew when I brought Coach Thigpen in, those would be things I would learn from her,” said Lyle. “Just to give you one more bullet, or one more arrow.”
The 2016 District Tournament Champion Ladycats include: senior – Addison Smith, Reagan Sikes, Sealy Thigpen, Lexi Brooks, Brandi Harrison and Ansley Simmons; juniors – Alicia Barrett, Sarah Lynch, Maddison Maddox, Grace Wagner, Haley Montgomery, Breanna Price, Courtney Millham, Jayzlee Bahr, Hatti Hunter and Anna Beth Hunter; sophomores – Kyntlie Wiles, Sara Lynch, Tateli Thacker, Aliyah Ayres, Alex Yang and Halle Shelton. The team manager are: Delaney Amason, Hailey Tackett, Kennedy Downen and Ashlyn Soliz. The Ladycats Head Volleyball Coach is Brad Lyle with assistant coaches Rhonda Thigpen and Tia Fryar.
The Ladycats will take on West Fork in the first round of the Class 4A Volleyball State Tournament Tuesday, October 24th at 2 p.m. at Lonoke High School. With a first round victory, Mena will take on the winner of Lonoke and Pocahontas in the second round Wednesday, October 26th at 6 p.m.