Sports

Lady Badger volleyball looks to bounce back as conference play gets underway

By OBU Sports Journalism Class
For The Arkadelphian

Through the first 13 matches of the season, the themes for a young Arkadelphia volleyball squad have been growth and improvement. In the weeks to come, the 6-6-1 Lady Badgers will look to continue those trends as they enter into the meat of the 4A-West conference schedule.

The Lady Badgers started out with six victories in their first 10 matches, with a few of those wins helping them to clinch a second-place finish in their bracket at the LR Southwest Volleyball Tournament. Over the last two weeks in particular, though, the Badgers have faced the difficulties of experienced opponents and a roster that has seen players miss matches due to numerous reasons including injury and Covid-19 related absences..

The Lady Badgers celebrate with junior Makayla Gentry after she served the winning point in a match with Robinson.

Last week, Arkadelphia struggled in a tough non-conference matchup against Sheridan, which saw the Badgers faced with a season-high 19 unplayable balls off of opponent serves after having just six in the previous four matches combined.

AHS head coach Jenny Coon noted, though, that the team was ready to bounce back quickly following the loss. Although she was disappointed with the Sheridan match, she had nothing but praise about how the team responded.

“The Sheridan match was by far the worst match of the year last Tuesday,” Coon said. “They didn’t handle the match well and I didn’t handle how they handled the match well either. Everybody including coaches checked themselves before practice the next day and we came out and had one of the best practices all year.”

The Badgers’ efforts did not go unnoticed in their match the next day. Despite falling to conference foe Fountain Lake, Coon was impressed with how her players fought against a perennial conference and state championship contender. Arkadelphia led 22-20 in game one before Fountain Lake rallied to take the game and eventually the set.

“We played really well [against Fountain Lake],” said the coach. “It was a lot of fun to watch them and what they did in that first game,” Coon said.

Their defeat at the hands of the Cobras marked an 0-2 start in conference play for the Badgers. A tough five-set loss at Malvern this Tuesday night after winning the first two sets kept the Lady Badgers looking for their first conference victory heading into Thursday’s match with perennial power Mena. Despite the slow start, though, Arkadelphia is still in position to contend for a state tournament spot.

As to how her team will get there, the path is clear to Coach Coon. “[We’ve] got to beat the best of the rest,” she said, in reference to the remainder of the conference schedule.

Coon believes the team’s ability to finish matches will essentially determine how well they will do the remainder of the season.

“Once you learn how to finish one time, in your mind you can do it,” said Coon. “Then the next time it’s not as doubtful in your head.”

Lady Badger seniors Gracie Simpson (left) and Trinity McKenzie prepare for action during a recent match.

One early-season match that Coon believes is one the team can use as a building block was an exciting five-set win over Mayflower in which the Lady Badgers were down 12-8 in the last set and rattled off 7 straight points to win the match.

The Lady Badgers have also been forced to shuffle players around to different positions and build the depth due to missed time from veterans and starters, which has allowed Coon to work on different areas in practice. Coon also likes the makeup of her young team who has heard compliments from other coaches about their playing style.

“We had coaches this summer and earlier in the season describe us as being ‘scrappy’ and as a coach you love to hear that,” said Coon. “When you have some out, we just have to adopt that ‘next person up’ mentality,”

Heading into the end of the first half of the double round-robin conference schedule, Coon said she is confident that her team will be in good shape when the time comes for teams to qualify for the state tournament through the remainder of the conference schedule.

Arkadelphia has three straight home conference matches over the next week. The Lady Badgers will host Mena Thursday at 5:00 and then will host Camden-Fairview Tuesday and Mills Thursday. The junior varsity matches next week will start at 5:00 followed by the varsity matches.

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