The last thing Bentonville needs as the Lady Tigers reach the midpoint of their season is a lull in how they play or a letdown against their opponents.
Bentonville (9-3, 3-0) earned sole possession of first place in the 7A-West standings Thursday following its sweep of Springdale Har-Ber. That gives the Lady Tigers victories over last year’s state semifinalists, but coach Michelle Smith is confident her team won’t rest on those past victories.
“The big thing is right now is the girls have to stay focused,” Smith said. “I think the girls do a good job of respecting who they are playing, so I think the point of having a letdown is over. We let them enjoy the win for about 24 hours, then it’s back to business.
“It was a great win on our home floor, but I started working again right after that. We’re about halfway through the season, and I need to sit back and find a way where the girls can stay healthy, mentally and physically, through the rest of the season.”
Bentonville’s next opponent should also keep the Lady Tigers on their toes as they host an improved Springdale team that is just one game back in the conference standings.
“They’re not the same team that they have been in the past,” Smith said. “They have surprised a lot of people. They have athletes that are achieving their goals and the scores show it.”
After opening 7A-West play with a win over Van Buren, West suffered a three-set loss to Fayetteville on its home floor before dropping a four-set decision at Springdale.
So why is Lady Wolverines coach Julie Rowan more pleased about a match where her team was swept instead of a match where West won a set?
“We played a good match against Fayetteville,” Rowan said. “I thought we fought hard, where we might have been a little timid in the past, and we played to win. That was fun to see because it’s a good confidence builder and what might be called a quality loss.
“I didn’t like the way we played against Springdale. We weren’t as disciplined as we were against Fayetteville and we went back to making a lot of unforced errors. I expected to see a lot more consistency, so that one was a hard one to swallow.”
Next up for the Lady Wolverines is a road match against Springdale Har-Ber, which West played during the Early Bird Invitational at Bentonville. Rowan hopes to see a much better performance than the last time her team faced the Lady Wildcats.
“They waxed us pretty good over there,” Rowan said. “It was like we didn’t even show up to play, and I always want our girls to play with a lot of hard. I hope our girls will have a renewed mindset and give Har-Ber a lot tougher match this time.”
—Henry Apple • @NWAHenry
The Lady Mounties notched a three-set win over crosstown rival Rogers Heritage to start the week, keyed by a strong service game. But they struggled over the weekend in a tournament in Springfield without some key seniors, who were taking the ACT.<br><br>
Rogers (6-10, 1-2 7A-West) dominated Heritage over the final two sets thanks to 14 aces in the match. But the Lady Mounties fell at Springdale Har-Ber later in the week.<br><br>
They went just 1-4 in a tournament in Springfield, Mo. on Saturday, but were missing three seniors for part of the day. Rogers plays at Van Buren on Tuesday this week, before hosting league-leading Bentonville on Thursday.<br><br>
The Lady War Eagles dropped both 7A-West Conference matches last week, falling to crosstown rival Rogers High on Tuesday and Van Buren on Thursday.<br><br>
Heritage (3-7-1, 0-3 7A-West) struggled in serve reception against the Lady Mounties, but was much better in a more competitive match against Van Buren.<br><br>
The Lady War Eagles host two-time defending Class 7A state champion Fayetteville, then travel to Bentonville West in league play this week.<br><br>
— Paul Boyd • @NWAPaulB
Coach Shyrah Schisler didn’t sugar-coat anything in regards to the Lady Wildcats’ first loss in conference to Bentonville last Thursday.
The Lady Tigers grabbed sole-possession of first place in the 7A-West with a three-set sweep on their home floor. Har-Ber (9-3, 2-1 7A-West) just didn’t play well.
“That’s probably the best way to put it,” Schisler said. “I thought Bentonville played really well and played very aggressive with us, which I thought they were going to do. They were very hungry, which is good for us. We need to be prepared for that. I just did not think we played consistent, we were a little undisciplined.
“We were just a little off on the things we do well,” she added. “We never played what I call Har-Ber volleyball. We never played our kind of game, and when we don’t do that we kind of struggle. But I thought it was a good learning experience, especially for our young ones just to know what our conference is all about and to prepare for Bentonville West and Fayetteville this week.”
After two road matches last week, Har-Ber is happy to be back on its own court Tuesday against West. Schisler added that the atmospheres at Springdale High and Bentonville were “really crazy,” and prepared her young team for what lies ahead in conference.
Har-Ber will face a challenge Tuesday in West’s Kortney Puckett, a 6-foot-1 sophomore middle. Puckett recorded a match-high 16 kills in a 3-1 loss to Springdale last week and dominated for stretches as the Lady Wolverines battled back from 2-0 down.
“I think she’s the best middle in the conference by far, and I think she’s a very good athlete,” Schisler said of Puckett. “For as (tall) as she is and young as she is she’s pretty well put together. She started for them as a freshman and has kind of been their glue since last year.”
After facing West at home, Har-Ber travels down to play Fayetteville on Wednesday to accommodate the Lady Purple’Dogs’ impending trip to Las Vegas for tournament play. A Wednesday match is admittedly a bit odd routine-wise, but Schisler said her team will be prepared.
“My thing is, we’re ready to play whenever.”
– Scottie Bordelon • @NWAScottie
Bentonville West kept Springdale (7-2-1, 2-1) out of the state tournament last year based on points. And that made last the Lady Red’Dogs’ 3-1 win against the Lady Wolverines last Thursday that much sweeter.
Zoe Schmidt, KeKe Turner and Jessie Davis finished with big nights and guided Springdale to a 2-1 start in conference play. Schmidt (13 kills) came close to tying her career-high of 15 kills in the win.
And for a second time this season, Springdale went into extra points during a match, eventually downing West 28-26 to claim the win. Afterward, Springdale assistant coach Staci Heaton said her heart rate peaked at 117 during the chaotic fourth set.
“It was definitely a good matchup and an exiting end, for sure. It was a little closer than I would like for our sanity and our heart rate,” Springdale coach Meagan Thompson said laughing. “That was a big win for us.”
As for Thompson, her nerves during the match were definitely present, but said she does her best to keep a steady hand as her girls look to her for guidance.
That level-headed nature seems to have rubbed off on Schmidt, who finished with a career-high 21 digs.
“She’s really being a great leader on the court and its helping us out that she’s been able to pay all the way around,” Thompson said. “That’s one of the things I wanted for her was to improve defensively, and she’s probably been one of our best defensive players this year.”
Springdale begins its week with a tough test at Bentonville, who swept Har-Ber last Thursday to grab first place in the league, and Van Buren awaits at home Thursday. Thompson has been able to catch the Lady Pointers prior to this week, and sees the match as another round-one must-win.
“(Bentonville) is going to be a tough match,” she said. “They have a real strong senior class also and lots of returners back for them. So I think with the match I want our girls to focus on playing their game, and that’s all I can really ask for.
And (Van Buren) is also a big game because West beat Van Buren,” she continued. “If they end up beating us it takes away the win we had last week and will kind of even us all back out.”
– Scottie Bordelon • @NWAScottie
Coach Jessica Phelan learned more about her Lady Bulldogs (6-1, 2-1) during their lone loss than any of the previous four games — all wins.
“I thought there were things we did really well (in a 3-2 loss at Bentonville High on Aug. 31),” Phelan said. “But certainly a loss can help identify things you need to make progress on in practice to reach your full potential as a team.”
Fayetteville responded with nonconference wins against Tulsa Bishop Kelley (3-0) and Benton (3-1) before swiping 7A-West wins at Bentonville West and Rogers High last week. Improved serving and blocking with fewer unforced errors have fueled the win streak heading into Tuesday’s match at Rogers Heritage and Wednesday’s home match against Springdale Har-Ber.
“We came back and were able to have good nonconference wins and two solid performances last week,” Phelan said. “We have a big week ahead of us, and I like how we’ve been playing matches together and have stayed focused on the process.
“This is a fun group that I feel like gets better every time that we play.”
Heritage (3-7-1, 0-3) has lost four consecutive matches while Har-Ber (9-3) is tied with Fayetteville and Springdale High for second in the conference standings.
On Thursday, the two-time defending Arkansas 7A champs will head to Las Vegas to play on Friday and Saturday at the Durango Fall Classic, a tournament presented by Nike.
“We’ll get to play some of the best teams from the West Coast,” Phelan said. “It’ll be a good way to continue to make progress as a team together, but we’re not looking past Heritage or Har-Ber because those will be tough match ups and good opportunities to stay in the hunt in the 7A-West race.”
Senior Haley Warner leads team with 163 kills and a 49.5 kill percentage while Ella May Powell has 251 of the team’s 309 assists this season. Freshman Rosana Hicks has 56 kills and 11 blocks. Sophomore Arianna Walter has a team-high 23 blocks. Senior Carley Galloway leads in digs (101) and serve receptions (125).
— Mike Capshaw • @NWACappy