Becoming the “hunted” instead of the “hunters”
BY LEANN DILBECK
Mena is host to the 4A State Volleyball Tournament this week and the top seed coming out of the West District going into tournament play is none other than the 2014 State Volleyball Champions, the Mena Ladycats. The Ladycats are looking to bring home another state title to add to their most recent 2014 State Volleyball and their 2015 State Softball titles. This will be the second state tournament that Mena has hosted in 2015 and is a testament to the community, the hospitality, and the facilities.
Mena Superintendent Benny Weston explained the process in which host sites are selected, “Facilities are a major part of the equation but there are other factors that are also considered. The quality and number of accommodations available in the immediate area such as lodging; restaurants; gas stations; comments from patrons that have attended previous tournaments at that particular site; and the availability of volunteers that are committed to help with the tournament until it has been completed are determining factors. Community support is always a key component.”
Weston said that in January of each year, the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) Board of Directors meet and award tournament sites for the year. Prior to the meeting, the AAA staff sends out packets to all member schools with instructions and deadlines for being considered as a hosting site for all regional and state tournaments. Those schools that submit a bid have to be present at the board meeting and explain why they feel they should be awarded the tournament. After all schools have presented, the AAA board votes and the school that gets the majority of votes is awarded the tournament.
The Mena Ladycats are 28-2 for the season and 10-0 in conference play. A similar position as going into last year’s state tournament as head Coach Brad Lyle explained, “I feel really good about our team. It’s kind of ironic… last year going into state tournament, we were 28-2. I just don’t feel like we have a lot of holes in our line-up. We are peaking at just the right time and I’m excited to see what this week brings.” Different than last year, Coach Lyle and his team were “hunters” going into state tournament, and being champions going into this year’s tournament, they find themselves as the “hunted.” Lyle had this to say, “As soon as we were fortunate enough to win last year, I knew that was going to be the case. I’ve coached this game a long time and I’ve never been the hunted but I’ve embraced it because you don’t become the hunted without winning championships.”
With the opportunity to play on their home court, Lyle recognizes this gives the team a huge advantage. “I’m big on staying in routine and when you’re in a hotel, you can’t stay in routine.” Lyle said he’s also grateful it gives Ladycat fans a better opportunity to come out and not only watch some exciting volleyball action, but also to support their team. Support he’s literally seen turn games around so he’s looking forward to seeing the stands packed with Ladycat fans showing their support. “When we bring home this state championship, and that’s what we’re planning on doing, it’s not going to just be a championship for just the Mena volleyball team, it’s a championship for Mena and for Polk County and for anybody that supports us. It’ll belong to everybody just like last year’s did. So I really hope you’ll come out and show your support to these girls.”
Superintendent Benny Weston credited student athletes, coaches and parents as the success behind Mena sports, “We have very dedicated student athletes, coaches, and parents who work collaboratively to provide great opportunities for the success of our programs. We are blessed to be a part of a community that supports its young people in all their endeavors. Successful school programs are a result of schools, communities, and parents working together for the good of all students within the school district.”
The Mena Ladycats will play Lonoke, 4th seed out of the Central District, in the first round of tournament action on Tuesday at noon in the Union Bank Center. A win will move the Ladycats to play the winner of the Harrisburg and Gravette game at 4 p.m. in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, October 28. Another victory there will place the Ladycats playing at 3 p.m. in the semi-finals on Thursday, October 29 in the Union Bank Center. The State Volleyball Championship game will be played in the Hot Springs Convention Center at 7 p.m. on Saturday, October 31. All games will be carried on KQOR 105.3FM with play-by-play action from Sherri Hines and Jeff Brotherton.