By Chris Babb
For The Arkadelphian
ARKADELPHIA — After finishing the first half of the 4A West conference schedule with a 2-5 record, the Arkadelphia Lady Badger volleyball team had quite a hill to climb to finish as one of the conference’s top four teams and qualify for the 4A State Tournament.
Last week at Magnolia in the regular season finale, the Lady Badgers reached the top of that hill.
A 3-1 win over the Lady Panthers completed a 5-2 finish to the conference schedule for Arkadelphia and was enough to finish the conference schedule at 7-7 and secure the fourth seed in this week’s 4A State Tournament at Shiloh Christian in Springdale.
The Lady Badgers will play the top seed from the 4A Central, the Morrilton Lady Devil Dogs, Tuesday at 4 p.m. in Springdale. The entire 4A State Tournament bracket can be found here: 2021 Class 4A Volleyball Bracket – Shiloh Christian High School Varsity Girls Volleyball
Arkadelphia’s 7-7 finish put them in a tie for fourth with Malvern. Thanks to a 3-0 sweep of the Lady Leopards two weeks ago, Arkadelphia held the edge with a tiebreak to earn the fourth seed from the conference.
Arkadelphia head coach Jenny Coon was not surprised that her Lady Badgers earned the tournament berth, but was glad to see them get a couple of big wins in the second half that gave them the confidence they needed.
“We knew we were better than 2-5,” said Coon. “We just kept working. We got a huge 3-2 win to start the second round at Bauxite which is a really tough place to play. Our confidence was really climbing then. We took Fountain Lake to five sets and we’ve never done that before, then we beat Malvern in three at home. The atmosphere that night in our gym was crazy.”
The Lady Badgers defeated Mills and Camden-Fairview to set up the match with Magnolia, a match in which the Lady Badgers seemingly had to overcome some early nerves.
“We came out tight in game one, but loosened up and played better in the next three games to win the match,” said Coon.
The tournament will mark the final time in a Lady Badger for four seniors on the 2021 team: Emily Fritts, Trinity McKenzie, Gracie Simpson and Jhene Utley. It’s a group that Coon has been pleased with during their senior seasons.
“I’m really proud of our seniors,” said Coon. “Two of them didn’t get to go to the state tournament last year because they were quarantined the day before we played, so I’m glad they have the opportunity this year. These seniors have been leaders since the spring. They’ve worked hard, encouraged and led by example.”
Coon also wanted to thank the fans who have supported the team this season on their behalf.“We appreciate all the support from the parents and the fans this season,” said Coon. “Our fans at home and the student section that had their different theme nights at our matches was outstanding. They brought a ton of energy every home game. The players and I really appreciate it. We had a great crowd at Magnolia supporting the girls, too. It was really nice.”